In carbon negative Sikkim, emissions are on the rise

A preliminary report by the Sikkim government suggests the green state is carbon-negative, but emissions are on the rise
Photo: Nidhi Jamwal
Photo: Nidhi Jamwal

Sikkim has become the first Indian state to assess its carbon footprint and estimate a trend for emissions. As part of its initiative “Sikkim Climate Inventory and Monitoring System” launched last year, all sectors in the Himalayan state, like transport, tourism, industry, roads, agriculture, are being studied to estimate carbon emissions from each of them. For instance, an increase in tourism means more vehicles, more hotel construction, road building to interior areas, which, in turn, means more carbon emissions. Under the project, being implemented by the forest department to create an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, the total is then juxtaposed with the carbon sequestration by the state’s forests to find out its carbon footprint.

“Sikkim is not only carbon-neutral, but carbon-negative, according to the preliminary report. This means our forests sequester more carbon than the state’s total emissions,” says Thomas Chandy, the state’s principal secretary-cum-principal chief conservator of forests. The final report should be ready in six months after more data from the industry and tourism sectors, he adds.

As much as 82 per cent of the total area of Sikkim is under forests. Of this, nearly 31 per cent is protected forest while 7 per cent is dense forest. In carbon sequestration, trees, grasses and other plants absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) through photosynthesis and store it as carbon in biomass (trunks, branches, foliage and roots) and soil. The process helps offset CO2 in the atmosphere from deforestation, forest fires and fossil fuel emissions. The Paris Agreement, an accord within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, recognised the role of forests as carbon sinks for mitigation of climate change under Article 5.

Sikkim has always done well in sequestering carbon but this is the first time it has been found carbon-negative. In 2012, a state government report Climate Change in Sikkim called the carbon sequestration of forests in Sikkim “very significant in India”. A study published the same year by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, put Sikkim’s annual CO2 emissions at 432.3 gigagram/Gg (1,000 Gg= 1,000,000 kg=1 teragram/Tg) per year, but estimated its carbon storage capacity to be 382.1 Gg per year—less than the carbon emissions, making it carbon-positive. The IISc study, which calculated state-wise carbon emissions and sequestration capacity, declared Arunachal Pradesh as India’s major carbon sink, with a carbon storage capacity of 10 Tg per year against CO2 emissions of 561.2 Gg per year.

Another study published in 2015 on carbon emissions in the northeast, found that of the total CO2 emissions from energy sector in the region, the maximum share was from Assam (86 per cent), while Sikkim contributed only 1 per cent. Methane emissions from agriculture (paddy cultivation and livestock) and energy sector (fuelwood and LPG) were again found to be the highest in Assam and the lowest in Sikkim. In Sikkim, 55 per cent methane emissions were from livestock, followed by paddy (32 per cent), fuelwood (8 per cent) and LPG (5 per cent).

Chandy refused to share more details of the government study as the final report is not out yet, but cautioned that in last 10 year, carbon emissions in the state were on the rise (though they still seem to be below carbon-neutral values). He says: “Our study will help the state government prepare a roadmap and undertake projects for carbon neutrality.” The state government will set up climate monitoring cells in each department, with the forest department as a nodal agency. These cells would find ways to make future projects carbon-neutral or negative. Lauding the initiative, P D Rai, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), Sikkim, said the study would conclude which way the state was headed, and hence, was crucial (see “Carbon-negative states should be compensated”).

(The story is being published as part of IHCAP-CMS Media Fellowship Programme)

'Carbon-negative states should be compensated'
Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) P D RAI, who is also the convenor of Integrated Mountain Initiative for sustainable development in Himalayan hill states of India, talks to NIDHI JAMWAL on the effect of climate change in the state.

What are the impacts of climate change in Sikkim and the challenges thereof?

Our winters have become very dry and warm, and there is a perceptible shift in the way snowfall occurs. Earlier, the snowfall used to start in November, but now it begins only in January. Secondly, rains tend to be very heavy. The famous mandarin oranges, cardamom and ginger, that used to grow at lower altitudes, have started to climb higher. The major challenges are managing disasters, like cloudbursts and landslides, and water security.

Winter rainfall is on a decline in the state, which affects rabi crops. How is the state addressing it?

We need to store rainwater throughout the year and use it in winter. We can also recharge our aquifers, springs and streams for which the study of geology is most needed. We could also gauge the possibility of interconnecting our lakes, but that needs to be studied holistically. By doing all this, we can meet people's water needs for the next 30-40 years.

A recent government study suggests that Sikkim is carbon-negative. Should carbon-negative states need to be compensated and carbon-positive penalised?

Of course! For instance, Arunachal Pradesh should be hugely carbon-negative due to sparse population and major part of its forests being intact. But, Haryana has only three per cent forest cover. Our green cover is at 80 per cent and provides a lot of ecosystem services, such as freshwater, clean air and contribution to the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. If we are doing that much more, the devolution of money or resources to the mountain states should be that much higher.

What demands will you put forth before the 15th Finance Commission?

The 15th Finance Commission is important to get the message across that the Centre now looks at mountains as a major ecosystem and wants to study it to understand its dynamics. We need adequate resources so that mountain states can introduce policies that help both mitigate climate change and adapt to it without having to plunder our natural resources.

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