Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry can make or break Ireland’s climate objectives, says Orlaith Delargy, Associate Director at KPMG Sustainable Futures.

It might be strange to think of Ireland’s land and forestry as a ‘sector’, but under Ireland’s Climate Bill 2021, emissions from this sector will need to reach net zero by 2050. Land use, Land-use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) is a vital part of Ireland’s climate challenge – and solution.

What is LULUCF?

LULUCF is one of the categories in the UN’s greenhouse gas accounting framework. Emissions from Forests, Grasslands, Croplands, Wetlands and land use change are reported under this category.

We often think that areas such as forests and wetlands absorb carbon, but in fact the LULUCF sector in Ireland has been a net source of GHG emissions in all years from 1990 to 2019. In 2018, for example, the LULUCF sector emitted 4.8 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e). That’s on par with total emissions from combustion in the manufacturing industry. In particular, grasslands and wetlands are considerable sources of emissions due to the drainage of organic soils and peatlands, which releases carbon and increases emissions.

LULUCF in the Climate Action Plan

Under the new Climate Action Plan, the LULUCF sector will have to cut 2 to 3 MtCO2e by 2030. The challenge could be even greater if Ireland’s forest sink continues to decline – cuts of 4.6 MtCO2e may be required. 

Key Metrics KPI 2030 Direct Savings
MtCO2 eq. in 2030
Forest Land New afforestation to 2030
Accounting for afforestation with removals realised post 2030
Cropland Increase use of cover crops
Incorporation of straw
Grassland Improved management of grassland on mineral soils
Reduced management intensity (water table management) of 80,000 hectares on drained organic soils by 2030
Wetlands Bord na Mona and LIFE Peatlands rehabilitation (45,000 hectares)
A further 20,000 hectares of rehabilitation 
Total   4.61

Potential Metrics to Reduce Emissions in Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry.  Source: Climate Action Plan 2021

What does the Climate Action Plan propose to meet this challenge? Rapidly increasing afforestation and rehabilitating and restoring peatlands are key pillars of the proposed actions. We will see the publication of the National Land Cover Map and the National Land Use Review, which will support decision making around Ireland’s land use.

A new Forestry Strategy and Programme will be launched in 2023, along with agri-environmental  schemes that encourage farmers to establish and maintain forests on their land. The Government will support the development and use of timber and harvested wood products, with knock-on effects for the construction industry.

The role of agriculture

A range of agricultural measures will be introduced to increase carbon sequestration, and a National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory will be established. Measures to increase carbon sequestration include the incorporation of straw and cover crops in tillage, the use of multispecies mixed swards on Ireland’s grasslands, and increasing the number of hedgerows and trees on farms.

The next National Biodiversity Action Plan is under development and will include a range of measures to support the delivery of the Climate Action Plan 2021.

The role of oceans

Finally, the role of the oceans in carbon sequestration will also be reviewed, with efforts to increase public and scientific understanding of the effects of climate change on the sea.

KPMG’s own research 'You Can’t Go Green Without the Blue' underscores the range of ecosystem services that the oceans provide us with, and the important role for the private sector in the sustainable management of the oceans.

What’s the takeaway for businesses?

Businesses in all sectors depend directly or indirectly on natural capital (that is, the land, the sea and everything in between) for essential goods and services such as clean air, clean water, food, timber and wellbeing. But climate change and biodiversity loss seriously threaten these goods and services.

According to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), less than 25 percent of large companies at risk from biodiversity loss are disclosing their impacts. This year, reporting organisations GRI and CDP are ramping up their expectations for corporate reporting on biodiversity, and the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures will publish the first draft of its recommendations. To keep pace, businesses need to begin mapping their dependencies and impacts on natural capital to ensure that everyone can continue to benefit from ecosystem goods and services into the future.

Businesses should assess and disclose nature-related financial risks and incorporate these factors into their risk management and investment decision-making. Companies that have land holdings of any size should consider what they can do – and who they can partner with – to improve carbon sequestration and biodiversity and support Ireland’s LULUCF targets.

Get in touch

KPMG Sustainable Futures can support you in understanding what the Climate Action Plan means for you and tackle head on the opportunities and challenges ahead of us to ensure a climate resilient Ireland. Contact Orlaith Delargy to discuss any of the issues raised in this article. We'd be delighted to hear from you.

More in Sustainable Futures