Plant poplars, ‘firefighter’ sheep and more forests: this is the government’s energy plan to absorb CO2

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Among the more than 600 pages of the draft of the update of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) there is not only a roadmap for the future of electricity generation in Spain, but also measures aimed at reducing the use of fossil fuels or even planting poplars on riverbanks and floodplains. In the latter case, the proposal forms part of a series of tools with which the aim is to reinforce the forestry and agricultural CO2 sinksforests and crops that collect greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Not all sinks are plant formations, but they always act as such to a greater or lesser extent when they are in good health. A sink, according to the definition made by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition itself, is “any system or process by which a gas or gases are removed from the atmosphere and stored“Thus, a forest, for example, would have this role simply because it exists, because photosynthesis is part of its main vital function: through it, plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere or dissolved in water and compensate for what they emit during their own cycle of life.

The changes are motivated in part by the modification of Regulation 2018/841 within the Objective 55 (Fit for 55) package of the EU. There is a reform of the 2030 targets that affect the LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) sector. Broadly speaking, what this implies is that there is a new global collection target for EU sinks and this implies, in turn, new binding national targets from 2026. There will be a sub-period until that year, in which the original target is maintained, and one thereafter with a target for Spain to absorb 43.6 million net tons of carbon dioxide.

The problem, according to the PNIEC, is that the sector’s forecasts “continue pointing to a saturation in the CO2 absorption capacity of natural sinks” for reasons such as the impact of climate change -mainly, an increase in temperatures and less availability of water – or the increased risk of desertification. That is where the measures proposed by the Plan come in, although they remember that their effect it will be more noticeable in the long run.

Thus, seven measures are detailed for forest sinks. The first one is the regeneration of the woodland of the meadows, which is currently a problem for its conservation. The excessive use of firewood, hunting, overgrazing or, simply, forest fires “cause declines that colloquially fall under the name of dry,” details the PNIEC. The idea is to regenerate pastures -also other open forests- for their social and economic value, but also so that they fulfill their function as a sink.

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