Achieving targeted sequestration from green cover seems impossible

India cannot achieve this Paris Agreement target without political commitment at both central and state government levels

By Jitendra Vir Sharma
Published: Monday 14 January 2019
Forest cover in India
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Paris Agreement mandated to limit the rise of temperature within 2 degrees Celsius and aspire to limit within 1.5 degrees Celsius. All member countries including India informed United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in 2015. They are 33-35 per cent emission reduction intensity per GDP, 40 per cent energy from non-fossil fuel source and achieving additional sequestration of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 from forests and trees by 2030. The Indian government reiterates its effort and contribution during COP 24 at Katowice in December 2018. 

The total forest and tree cover in India is 24.39 per cent and of this, around 42 per cent is degraded and open, 45 per cent is moderately dense forests and 13 per cent is very dense (ISFR 2017). There has been an increase in open forest cover and reduction in the moderately dense forests, which indicates a reduction in the quality of forests due to unsustainable harvest of fuelwood and other forest produce including unsustainable grazing (ISFR 2017).

There are evidences that implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006, in some areas add to the degradation of forests through recognition of rights against the provisions of the Act and non-implementation of conservation rights and sustainable use of resource.

Forestry as a subject is listed in the concurrent list of the Constitution of India. While the Centre’s responsibly is to frame policy and plan, the job to implement it is the states’. The strategy to achieve additional 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2e from forests and trees in India by 2030 should have been prepared well before setting the targets. Unfortunately, it was not done. At present also, the Centre does not have a concrete action plan to achieve this target. The state forest departments are largely unaware of these targets and do not have any strategy to achieve it.

India has the potential to achieve this target provided the Centre and state governments work together with determination. It is a fact that more than 275 million people are deriving their full or part livelihood from forests and depend on forests for their subsistence need which is the major reason of forest degradation.

One third of the target could be achieved through protection and conservation of forests and the two-third potential lies with trees grown outside forests.  There is a need to have Rs 50,000-60,000 crore along with policy intervention, capacity building, research and development and institutional strengthening (Sharma 2017). The current financial allocation to the forestry sector including central and state government schemes is around Rs 20,000 crore, which is not sufficient to manage forests sustainably (TERI Analysis).

Since trees outside forests are key to achieve this target, agroforestry and bamboo missions are very important that are being dealt by Ministry of Agriculture, while related policy aspects are being dealt by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The technical and policy aspects must be dealt by MoEF&CC. The Union ministries must come out of domain problem and think about achieving the target.

There is hardly any research to enhance productivity of forests and trees outside forests. It must be done through government and private research institutions.

India cannot achieve this target without political commitment at central government and state government level. There are multitier reviews of forest diversion cases. The NDC targets must also be reviewed with same spirit which is lacking.

It has been seen in many states that political leaderships are going for large scale plantations such as nine crore seedlings in Uttar Pradesh and six crore in Madhya Pradesh. The fact is to see whether seedlings are available in the nurseries or not. If at all available, what is the monitoring system? How many seedlings are surviving? We can’t have such kind of approach to achieve NDC target. Instead, we should have a planned approach with third party monitoring system.

(The author is the director of forest & biodiversity department at Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi)

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