Climate Change

Beyond a green thumb: Green India Mission needs a fresh agenda to meet Nationally Determined Contribution targets

At present, GIM communication is limited to the number of saplings and survival rates, which is not enough

By Vanita Suneja
Published: Friday 07 April 2023
Even the basis for tree cover was just number of trees planted, India is falling behind in the targets to increase the quantity and quality of forest set in the GIM. Photo: iStock

The National Mission for a Green India (GIM) was one of the eight Missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change. However, the priorities set by states while planning activities under the sub-schemes of the mission is missing the larger goal of adapting and mitigating the climate crisis. 

Central government think tank NITI Aayog’s Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office evaluated all the centrally sponsored climate change schemes and looked into GIM and National Afforestation Programme in the forestry sector. It came out with a report Climate change in governance in September 2022.  

Read more: Forest Survey Report 2021: India’s growing stock increases due to trees outside forests

The evaluation report further drew attention to the action point of the fourth meeting of the National Executive Council for GIM, which were: to undertake a consultative process involving states, to prepare a strategic plan with scheme-specific outputs along with clear targets and timelines and funding requirements to achieve their contribution to the national and international goals.

Though GIM was implemented with a central objective of adapting and mitigating climate change, the quantity of carbon sequestered is not being monitored under the mission by most states. A third-party evaluation of GIM was commissioned to Forest Research Institute in Dehradun. 

The methodology and findings of the evaluation of GIM are limited to the number of saplings and survival rates. Its implementation has been reduced to tree planting and monitoring. 

Communication about the mission through the counting of surviving saplings dilutes the multi-co-benefits approach laid out in the mission document. It also makes it difficult to account for progress on Nationally Determined Contribution targets outreach accomplished by various states.

Even the basis for tree cover was just number of trees planted, India is falling behind in the targets to increase the quantity and quality of forest set in the GIM.

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India (MoEF&CC) approved a target of increasing tree cover by 53,377 hectares from 2015-16 to 2021-22 based on state submissions and demands. However, only 50 per cent of the target has been achieved. 

The other two missions on mitigation are based on energy efficiency or renewable energy, where a lot of initiatives with specific outputs and clear targets, new schemes and platforms have emerged.

These have helped to work out the uncharted territories in non-conventional energy and a lot of achievements to showcase over time. Meanwhile, the progress on GIM or NDC-related forestry targets is not visible in the public domain.   

Forests are central to NDC commitments at the global level. India committed to creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030 as an NDC commitment. 

At this point, GIM needs fresh ideas and imagination to drive the agenda so that within the next eight years, it raises its bar exponentially and eventually becomes a key driver for the Net Zero pledge for India by 2060.

Read more: Forest Survey report 2021: Over 45% of India’s forests will become ‘climate hotspots’ by 2030

It has to formulate new programmes to inspire various states, including a methodological framework until the implementation level. 

The fresh agenda should give flexibility to states and communities on the ground to design it and yet align with multiple targets of ecosystem strengthening, community ownership and governance including livelihoods managing sequestration targets.

It should be in the spirit of local governance, aligned with forest rights and have the spirit of federalism along with a leadership drive at the national level.  

The implementation of NDC from the forestry sector is not only limited to public lands or areas under legal forest definition. It also applies to private lands, so a cross-sectoral approach with other ministries is needed at the national and state levels.

Apart from the forestry sector, some relevant schemes under the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture are also relevant to meet NDC targets. These are, Restructured National Bamboo Mission, Sub Mission on Agroforestry and National Mission for Sustainable Habitat. 

In other sectors, agendas require technologies and innovations are required with large capital.

However, for GIM, the crux lies in galvanising people’s movement, especially scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and women, to be part of it at the ground level as envisaged in National Forest Policy, 1998; Forest Rights Act, 2006 and also acknowledged by the GIM document.

There are several reasons that position GIM to succeed:

  • Forest is a concurrent subject, meaning both state and central governments could make laws pertaining to the forests. Therefore, the Centre and states can design it together.
  • MoEF&CC is the custodian of the mission at the national level and is also a nodal ministry for overall domestic climate policy, so it is much better positioned to take charge of the targets under its wing.
  • MoEF&CC can use research and monitoring programmes linked with it, such as Survey of India, Forest Research Institutes and Indian Institute of Forest Management. 
  • The mission has been linked with the convergence with the afforestation scheme Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. This takes care of budgetary allocations to some extent on a continuous, long-term basis.
  • Mission on Sustainable Agriculture and Mission on Sustainable Habitats already have schemes promoting agroforestry, bamboo cultivation and Urban Forest, which could help meet the overall targets. 
  • Resources like a large forest workforce, voluntary organisations working on conservation and a large number of community forest management recognised as a part of the Forest Rights Act or strengthened as joint forest management groups at the grassroots are helpful as well.
  • Last but not least, there have been several successful examples of people-led forest governance and many forest bureaucrats as well as people’s movements that have worked relentlessly to showcase a win–win framework for environment, livelihoods, conservation and targets over many decades of participatory forestry in India.  

However, complacency and business as usual due to overconfidence in facts like being in control of large forest territories, a long history of established forest management practices, with an existing flow of funds like CAMPA and national afforestation plans, can go against GIM.

A belief also that targets will be covered sooner or later and reflected in the forest survey report can also go against it.

However, the urgency of climate change requires a fresh drive, a structured yet flexible framework and an innovative programme design to engage all the states, including a well-defined monitoring mechanism against established baselines across all the sub-objectives under GIM, including the intervention area related to livelihoods. 

Read more: Plantations, invasive species... what all India counts as ‘forest’

An ambition of additional, bio-diverse and continuous forest ecosystems, which include healthy mangroves acting as carbon sinks, need to remind themselves of three things. 

Firstly, a forest ecosystem is not synonymous or interchangeable with tree plantations. Secondly, cutting the forest ecosystem in one place and impacting the livelihoods of dependent communities and replacing it with growing trees in another place in a fragmented manner would not serve the purpose in the long run.

Thirdly, we need to acknowledge and further build on community-led forest management and participatory forestry principles. 

It needs to have the ambition that the forest-dependent population will eventually have to run with and own the standing stocks of carbon for conservation and management as a marker of the mission's success.  

Vanita Suneja is an independent researcher and writer. She has worked with various institutions over a period of three decades on environment, gender, water & sanitation

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

Read more:

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.