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Achieving additional sequestration of 2.5 -3 billion Tons of CO2e from forests and trees in India is a myth

India’s efforts to curb emissions and meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are reliant on the cumulative efforts of state and central government. India reinstated its commitment to enhance its carbon sink just last year at COP 24. However, with an ambitious target to sequester 2.5-3 billion tons of CO2e, government institutions need to ramp up the policy planning and its subsequent implementation to see tangible results. This article will examine pathways India can explore in order to successfully meet its targets to enhance its carbon sink.

Paris Agreement mandated to limit the rise of temperature within 2 degree Celsius and aspire to limit within 1.5 degree Celsius. All member countries including India informed UNFCCC their Nationally Determined Contributions popularly known as NDCs in 2015 which are (1) 33-35% emission reduction intensity per GDP (2) 40% energy from non-fossil fuel source (3) Achieving additional sequestration of 2.5-3 billion tons of CO2e from forests and trees by 2030. The Government of India reiterates its effort and contribution during COP-24 at Katowice in December 2018. 

Prior planning is much needed to enhance India’s forest reserve

The forest and tree cover in India is 24.39% of the total geographical area. Around 42% forest cover is degraded and open, 45% is moderately dense forests and 13% is very dense forests (ISFR 2017). Though there is an increase in forest cover largely in the category of open forests and reduction in the moderately dense forests. It indicates the reduction in the quality of forests due to unsustainable harvest of fuel wood and other forest produce including unsustainable grazing (ISFR 2017). There are evidences that implementation of Forest Right Act, 2006 in some areas further 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. The responsibility of Central government is policy and planning while implementation of the policy and plans is with state governments. The strategy to achieve additional 2.5-3 billion tons 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 Government of India does not have 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 potential to achieve this target provided Government of India 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. However unsustainable level of demand has led to significant forest degradation. One-third of the target could be achieved through protection and conservation of forests and two-third potential lies with trees grown outside forests.  There is need to have INR 500-600 billion 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 Governments schemes is around INR 200 billion which is not sufficient to manage forests sustainably (TERI Analysis).

Multi-disciplinary approach h is key in addressing sequestration targets

Since trees outside forests are key to achieve this target, so agroforestry and bamboo missions are very important subjects which are being dealt by Ministry of Agriculture while related technical and policy aspects are being dealt by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The central Government Ministries must come out of domain problem and think about how to achieve the target.

There is hardly any research to enhance productivity of forests and Tree Outside Forests (TOFs). 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 leadership are going for large scale plantations such as nine crore seedlings in the state of Uttar Pradesh and six crore seedlings in Madhya Pradesh. These large scale initiatives also have to be cognizant of other factors like monitoring systems and seedling availability and survival. We cannot have an improvised approach to achieve NDC targets, rather we should have planned approach with third party monitoring system.

Dr. Jitendra Vir Sharma, Director, Forest & Biodiversity, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi. He has nearly 34 years' experience of overall coordination and management of projects and activities in the forestry sector.