Irish officials said this weekend that the country will plant around 22 million new trees across the country each year until 2040, hoping to one day have at least 440 million in the ground to help combat the worst effects of climate change.
The ambitious targets were first reported by the Irish Times on Saturday, which notes that targets for new forestery were part of the government’s climate action plan released in June, but specific numbers of trees weren’t released. The sweeping proposal hopes to see Ireland transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 through a series of measures, including a new carbon tax, increased investment in renewable energy and shift in agriculture and land use.
“The climate action plan commits to delivering an expansion of forestry planting and soil management to ensure that carbon abatement from land-use is delivered over the period 2021 to 2030 and in the years beyond,” a spokesperson for Ireland’s Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, told the outlet. “The target for new forestation is approximately 22 million trees per year. Over the next 20 years, the target is to plant 440 million.”
The Irish Times noted that the initiative has already faced some opposition from farmers, who will need to be convinced to set aside some of their land for the trees to meet the government’s targets. But the government has championed the climate plan as an imperative step to safeguard the country’s economy against the worst impacts of global warming.
“Taking decisive action to confront climate disruption will be a major challenge to every dimension of our society, but the benefits are huge – warmer homes, cleaner air, a sustainable use of the world’s scarce resources, more connected communities, authentic values, and quality jobs in enterprises which can compete in a decarbonized world,” the government said in July while unveiling the plan. “This is everyone’s journey.”
Scientists have long touted the carbon-capturing abilities of trees. A study released in July found one of the most affordable ways to combat rampant greenhouse gas emissions — the prime driver of climate change — would be to plant a trillion trees or more in the coming years.
The study, written by a team of Swiss researchers and published in the journal Science, found that the planet could support new forests covering an area roughly the size of the United States.
But critics of the study cautioned that trees alone wouldn’t be enough to combat runaway rates of carbon emissions, and urged the world to work on a portfolio of climate change-reduction strategies, including investment in renewable energy and a mass scaling back from fossil fuels.
Many other countries, however, have focused on tree planting initiatives to do their part. Ethiopia said in July that it had planted more than 350 million trees in a single day as part of a nationwide effort to combat deforestation and global warming. India had a similar mass planing initiative in 2016 when 50 million trees were planted in a day.
The lofty targets will remain a challenge to many countries, however. An effort in England to cover thousands of acres with new forests fell more than 70% short of government targets earlier this year.