Calls from the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee to protect biodiversity and recognise the vital role of a healthy environment in tackling climate change is welcomed by Ireland’s leading environmental coalition.
The nature-friendly recommendations are included in the Committee’s report officially launched today that will feed into Government policy in tackling climate change.
The report follows six months of scrutiny by Committee members and contains over 40 priority recommendations based on a wish list outlined by the Citizens’ Assembly.
The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of over 30 national environmental organisations – is adamant that protecting our biodiversity is the best foundation on which to lay the road-map for real and lasting leadership in tackling climate change.
As such, the Pillar warmly welcomes the committee’s decision to take up many of the environmental recommendations outlined by Pillar members. 
Built upon the Citizen Assembly’s recommendations, the key policy asks from our members that have been taken on by the cross-party committee include calls for the Government to:
*Support the restoration, rehabilitation and rewetting of all peatlands 
* Prepare a national hedgerow conservation strategy that recognises the climate benefits of our national hedgerow resource 
* Prioritise a forestry model of native trees and biodiversity-rich woodlands in the right place, including riparian planting 
* Reward farmers for active maintenance of ecosystems and carbon storage and land diversification with a focus on planting native trees  
* Commission an independent review of Coillte to ensure that the commercial semi-state body manages its large public land bank in a climate resilient manner 
* Review the Forestry Act 1988 which established Coillte, the Irish Forestry Board, to ensure that policy is consistent with the objective of environmental, social and economic sustainability in this sector 
If adopted by the Government, these recommendations could help clear the decks for the State to forge a climate action plan for the following decades that puts Ireland on track to do our fair share to meet our climate commitments.
Environmental Pillar coordinator, Michael Ewing, said on the overall report:
“There is a clear and urgent need for a sense of direction and understanding as to how Ireland will take action to aggressively respond to the imminent threat of climate change in line with our Paris Agreement commitments.
“The Government has conceded that current policies and measures are not working and that we need a reset, clearing the decks for the work of this committee and its important recommendations recognising the vital role that a healthy environment can play in controlling our emissions.
“We would urge the Government to now take on these progressive recommendations and develop a real and lasting strategy to turn us from laggard to leader on climate action.”
Environmental Pillar Spokesperson, Charles Stanley Smith, said on peatlands:“
This committee had a historic opportunity to forge a climate action plan for the next decade that puts Ireland on track to do our fair share to meet the Paris commitment Agreement commitment to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5C.
“In the face of the global climate emergency and Ireland’s failure to act to date, we see this committee’s recommendations as the opportunity to usher in a new era of climate action.
“In particular, we welcome moves to protect our carbon and biodiversity rich peatlands. Bogs should be rewetted and the arterial drainage scheme should be reviewed as draining high carbon soil is the cause of a significant percentage of agricultural emissions, whilst depleting soil fertility.
Environmental Pillar Spokesperson, Oonagh Duggan, added on hedgerows that:
“It is great to see cross-party consensus recognising the value of our hedgerows as a national asset with their significant biodiversity and climate change benefits. We look forward to working with government to implement this recommendation.”
Environmental Pillar Spokesperson, Andrew St Ledger, said on forestry:
“The Environmental Pillar welcomes the committee’s understanding of the serious concerns regarding the viability and validity of the current State forestry policy especially in relation to biodiversity and climate change mitigation claims. Biodiversity is the measure for achieving Sustainable Development, the only blueprint for Climate mitigation.
“Coillte, who are in charge of the largest public land bank of seven per cent of the land mass, is not managing this land to ensure climate mitigation, resilience and ecosystem services to harness the full potential of the public forest resource for the public good. 
“Regarding State forestry policy, the reality is we are actually headed for a deforestation scenario with poor planting rates combined with ongoing high harvesting rates. In this situation the current forestry model will not only be failing to mitigate against climate change, it may be making it worse.
“We hope that the Government takes up the committee’s call and seek to see this large Coillte public land bank transitioning to mixed native woodlands and real forests that ensure sustainable management of this vital natural resource for long-term climate mitigation and adaptation. 
“The current short-sighted forestry model is not fit for purpose, nor is the purely commercial oriented 1988 Forestry Act, and it too must be reformed to achieve genuine Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) that includes a Public Good remit.
“Since 1988 the State has signed up to no less than 21 EU and UN SFM treaties, protocols and commitments, none of which are reflected in the 1988 Forestry Act.”
 Environmental Pillar (2018). Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action Regarding the Third Report and Recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly entitled “How the State can make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change:https://goo.gl/852iMT
 The Citizens’ Assembly (2018) Third Report and Recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly: https://goo.gl/Wmhso8
 “The Committee will recommend that the Climate Action Council develop a verifiable pathway to achieve net sequestration nationally by to address the urgent need for the restoration, rehabilitation and rewetting of all peatlands. This should also consider additional targets for the restoration of specific categories of peatland including industrially extracted peatlands, cut-over bogs, farmed peatlands and afforested peatlands. The Government should assign responsibility for a national programme of rewetting and restoration for inclusion in Budget 2020 based on the Council’s recommendation.”  “Further work now needs to be done to maximise the biodiversity and climate benefits of the national hedgerow resource, namely complete county based hedgerow surveys.”
 “Riparian planting relates to the planting of trees etc. between the fence line and the watercourse on the farm. As well as acting as a carbon sink, it offers many other environmental benefits including flood protection by reducing and slowing the flow of water from land to river channels and reduced soil quality depletion, stops chemicals and slurry leaching into the river, and creates wildlife corridors.”
 “The Committee is of the view that under the CAP and other national funding sources, a range of payment schemes should be made available for land uses which deliver specific climate and environmental benefits, including: Rewarding landowners for active maintenance of ecosystems, including re-wetting of 2506 agricultural peatlands.”
 “The Committee recognises the greater carbon storage and sequestration role of broadleaf forests and wishes to see reformed forest policy that would give stronger incentives to landowners to plan broadleaf species instead of conifers such as Sitka Spruce.”
 “The Government should commission an independent review and sustainability audit of Coillte’s forest business and other activities in, in conjunction with a review of the Forestry Act, 1988 to ensure that policy is consistent with the objective of environmental, social and economic sustainability in this sector.”
 Coillte is in charge of the largest public land bank consisting of seven per cent of the land mass yet is not managing this land to ensure Climate resilience and are not delivering a public good. The McCarthy report assessing state assets for privatisation in 2010 found approximately half of the Coillte public forest estate, 500,000 acres, was not commercially viable and that 0.4 per cent per-tax annual return from its forest business was not economically acceptable: https://goo.gl/oxpuVz
 A recent US report co-authored by IPCC scientist Dr. Bill Moomaw (Tufts University) and Dogwood Alliance found that the actual carbon stored long-term in harvested wood products represents less than 10 per cent of that originally stored in the standing trees and other forest biomass. If the trees had been left to grow, the amount of carbon stored would have been even greater than it was 100 years prior: https://goo.gl/UX4O0j