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Readying North East India for REDD+
The article is a primer on the opportunity and potential of REDD+ and summarizes the proceedings of a recently concluded workshop on deforestation drivers in the north east and the roles REDD+ financing can play in forestry conservation
Eighty percent of the Earth’s above-ground terrestrial carbon and forty percent of below-ground terrestrial carbon is captured by forests acting as carbon sinks. Deforestation and degradation has made these forests active sources of carbon emissions responsible for 15% of global carbon emissions. The current global deforestation rate has been estimated to be at 13 million ha/yr for 1990-2005 as per the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), a relatively new market-based mechanism in the carbon markets aims to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation. REDD+ was initially introduced as a part of Kyoto Protocol negotiations but was dropped from the main agenda to reappear again in 2005. Now it has become a key part of forthcoming global climate change negotiations.
Deforestation is defined as the permanent removal of forests and withdrawal of land from forest use and forest Degradation refers to loss of production capacity and biomass in forests. The “+” in REDD+ seeks to incentivise increase in existing forest stocks by way of regeneration and planting. Although the main focus of REDD+ is emission reductions, it results in positive externalities of biodiversity conservation, watershed management and poverty alleviation.
The forestry regime in India’s Northeast region is very unique. Most states have a very high forest cover – jointly the region contains thirty-four biodiversity hotspots. The extent of community ownership, management and dependence on forest resources is also very high. To keep these forests from degrading rapidly under increasing human pressure, REDD+ can deliver valuable financial instruments to make conservation of these forests profitable for its stakeholders.
“Whatever I dig from thee, Earth may that have quick growth again. O purifier, may we not injure thy vitals or thy heart” Bhumi Sukhta, Verse (12.1.35), Rig Veda
This verse alludes to the spirit of ecosystem conservation that was once part of India’s deep spiritual traditions. The traditions have no doubt diminished amid the onslaught of development and now as we look to new ways of ensuring that we replenish our forest resources, market based mechanisms to protect these vital resources are the most compelling. REDD+ is one such mechanism.
Earlier this month, our company, Iora Ecological Solutions, organized a two-day REDD+ workshop at North Eastern Hill University‘s Regional Centre for National Afforestation and Eco-development Board (RCNAEB) to assess market potential for conserving forests in the region. The workshop was arranged under the guidance of Prof. B.K . Tiwari, coordinator of RCNAEB at NEHU and this author, with support from Ms. Indu K Murthy of Indian Institute of Science, led the effort for shaping the workshop content. Participants included field professionals as also the forest department officials from Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The urgency for adopting new measures to develop community friendly forestry conservation practices was laid out by Mr. V.K. Nautiyal, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Meghalaya in his inaugural address.
The workshop provided a collaborative understanding of deforestation drivers in the north east and the roles REDD+ financing can play in forestry conservation. The major pressure faced by all states were illegal felling of trees for timber, fuel wood collection, hunting, encroachment of forest land, crop cultivation and grazing. The forest officials agreed that creating conservation programs in partnership with community members was the preferred way to address these Issues. Through the group’s discussions, workshop participants identified key interventions that include creating alternate livelihood options, agricultural intensification, distribution of efficient cook stoves, encouraging terrace cultivation in place of shifting cultivation, social fencing and stall feeding/ rotational grazing of cattle.
Challenges identified included precise data availability, mobilising people and financing. Data collection, analysis and accuracy in the forestry sector are key to establishing sound project baselines along with efficient Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of project activities. MRV is especially important because REDD+ Project activities reward successful implementation of project activities and their resultant reduction in emissions based on the MRV.
Participants learnt how to best design these monitoring systems, and project documentation and quantifying emission reductions, to qualify their projects for REDD+. With these institutional interventions, community centric activity planning and accurate and scientific monitoring, we can design the right kind of projects.
India’s rapidly growing emissions are bound to subject us to some form of carbon caps in the future. Our forestry sector can be a vital tool for us to minimize the liabilities of these caps while saving our most precious assets. North East India with its high forest cover can play a vital role here.
If we can push a community-centric paradigm of conservation and reward people financially preserving every tree, we could go a long way to sustaining India’s environment and providing sustainable livelihoods. REDD+ is a golden opportunity to ready our North East’s Forests if we are ready for REDD+.
Swapan Mehra, CEO, Iora Ecological Solutions, is a Carbon Forestry and CDM expert with several years of executive experience in leading international organisations in India and the Middle East where he was responsible for developing and financing carbon mitigation projects. He is focusing on developing REDD+ opportunities in India and South East Asia and is working actively with international investors who have special mandates to support REDD+ projects.