"I rise today to speak in a week when many people are talking and raising serious concerns about the EU-Mercosur deal and the potential impact on the beef industry. This morning, as we speak, outside Leinster House a large demonstration is gathering to express fears and concerns from the farming industry about the uncertainty that the deal presents and the negative consequences that may result.
Yesterday, I listened to the Joint Committee on Agriculture Food and the Marine discuss the merits of afforestation and the replanting of trees in order to address climate change and meet some of our obligations. It is with this in mind that I prefer to speak on a positive note rather than focus on negatives. It is timely that we are having this discussion because only a few days ago a report was published in Science by Professor John Crowther, a professor in environmental systems science at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich in Switzerland. At Queens University Belfast, we work with this university on a regular basis as partners in a European food project called EIT Food. Professor Crowther states that planting billions of trees is our best chance of saving the planet. He claims there is room on earth to plant 1.2 trillion extra trees and cut our carbon footprint by 66%. I am of the view that the claims are valid. Professor Crowther states, "This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn't just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one". The researchers believe that a worldwide programme could remove two thirds of all emissions pumped into the atmosphere by humans. They have calculated that 1.7 billion ha of land on which trees are not currently growing could support trees naturally. This equates to an area roughly the size of the US and China combined. They took into account that different areas would support different densities of trees and they excluded urban areas and all fields currently used to grow crops. Furthermore, grazing land was calculated as supporting a few trees, something that would actually be beneficial to cattle and sheep.
This works clearly demonstrates that people do not need to start believing in climate change or change their lifestyles. It does not require major advances in science or technology. It simply involves citizens engaging to support, donate, assist or facilitate the planting of trees. Many world-renowned scientists support this theory, as well as the idea that national governments should have this as a primary component of any plans to deal with climate change. René Castro, assistant director general at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, as stated, "We now have definitive evidence of the potential land area for re-growing forests, where they could exist and how much carbon they could store." Initial estimates suggest that a global cost of $300 million would restore over 1 trillion trees. This is by far the cheapest option yet proposed.
We need to consider how the men and women on the street today outside Leinster House can contribute and be rewarded for doing so.Telling a farmer to plant a forest is akin to telling people in Dublin to build a house in their garden that they cannot sell for 40 years. It would not happen. All of us need to acknowledge the difficulties and the sensitivities this would present. However, agriforestry on grazing land, utilising corners of fields and strips of low production value land, could be an option. I refer to forestry in harmony with grazing livestock. All of us could identify such areas.
Sometimes the "keep it simple, stupid", KISS, theory works best. That is the theory we probably need to examine. I urge the Government, in conjunction with farmers in the agricultural industry, to consider some of these solutions to our problems, pursue mechanisms to meet targets, deliver on climate change and, ultimately, give farmers a viable, sustainable future, especially in light of an EU-Mercosur deal."