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Burren CO2

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There have been a number of discussions about carbon taxes and reducing co2 generation in Ireland due to our likely failure to meet emission targets in 2020 and beyond.

The Burren is a manmade landscape. Thousands of years ago the Burren was a forest - primarily hawthorn and pine. The people living here then likely spent generations clearing it for farming and then, without the trees there, the weather stripped the top soil away. The landscape that remains is our creation.

So what if we tried to reforest it?

There are lots of definitions of what the Burren is, but the smaller number has it taking up 25,000 hectares. Most articles about sequestering soil in carbon focus on topsoil - the top 10 to 25 cm of soil. But you’d need a deeper soil depth than that so say 200 tons (metric) of carbon catured per ha with a soil depth of over a meter.

Where might that come from? Well, Ireland commercially processed 300kt of compost in 2015. There might also be paper waste and other waste that could go into a project like this. And obviously putting it in place would involve a lot of work but could be done in less carbon intense ways. The mix of trees and other plants we sowed could also help generate top soil and make it a better carbon sink.

Once done, it would have sequested 50mt of carbon. Globally we generate around 26gt of CO2 of which 7gt is carbon. So it’s not a huge amount, but pretty good for the land area.

But that’s just part of it because a hectare can support between 1,000 to 2,500 trees. Say we just planted 1,500 per ha so there could be nature trails and campsites and all that so the Burren could still function as a “natural wonder” sort of tourist destination. In Europe trees capture around 5t of CO2 per ha per year. Which works out to 1.25mt of CO2 pulled out of the atmosphere each year.

So how does this relate to our CO2 targets? Well, we’re set to miss them by 3mt of CO2 per year in 2020. I don’t know how the emission rules work, but a fully forested Burren would consume over a third of that excess and that seems like it would matter. And it would keep absorbing that level of CO2 for decades even as we drove down emissions in various sectors (looking at you agriculture).