IPCC Report on India’s Afforestation Policy

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    In Context

    • Recently the Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released.

    Report statement on India’s afforestation policy

    • The report states that not degrading existing ecosystems in the first place will do more to lower the impact of the climate crisis than restoring ecosystems that have been destroyed.
      • It is speaking about the increasingly contested policy in India that has allowed forests in one part of the country to be cut down and ‘replaced’ with those elsewhere.

    More about Afforestation 

    • Afforestation as part of India’s climate pledges: 
      • The government has committed to adding “an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5-3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover by 2030”
        • ‘GtCO2e’ stands for gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent.
    • Afforestation & CAMPA:
      • Afforestation is also codified in the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), a body created on the Supreme Court’s orders in 2002, chaired by the environment minister. 
      • According to the environment ministry, “CAMPA is meant to promote afforestation and regeneration activities as a way of compensating for forest land diverted to non-forest uses.”
    • Forest (Conservation) Act 1980:
      • When forest land is diverted to non-forest use, such as a dam or a mine, that land can longer provide its historical ecosystem services nor host biodiversity.
      • According to the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, the project proponent that wishes to divert the land must identify land elsewhere to afforest, and pay the land value and for the afforestation exercise. 
      • That land will thereafter be stewarded by the forest department.

    Issues

    • Unspent fund:
      • The money paid sits in a fund overseen by Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA)
      • In 2006-2012, the fund grew from Rs 1,200 crore to Rs 23,600 crore. But the Comptroller and Auditor General found in 2013 that most of this money had been unspent. In 2019, the fund had Rs 47,000 crore.
    • Facilitating deforestation:
      • CAMPA has also come under fire for facilitating the destruction of natural ecosystems in exchange for forests to be set up in other places.
        • For example, in October 2022, the Haryana government said it would develop the “world’s largest curated safari” using CAMPA funds received from deforestation in Great Nicobar for development projects, 2,400 km away and of very different topography.
    • Issues with CAMPA-funded projects:
      • A 2016 article in Current Science also said that CAMPA-funded projects endangered “landscape connectivity and biodiversity corridors” and exposed forest patches to “edge effects”. 
      • It added that planting non-native species or artificial plantations wouldn’t compensate for the ecosystem loss as well as be “hazardous to the existing ecosystem”.
    • No specific conditions for denying:
      • There are no specific conditions laid by the environment ministry for outrightly denying permission for deforestation for development projects.
        • For example, indiscriminately planting mangroves on mudflats which don’t naturally have mangroves to act as a buffer from storms. 
        • Destroying grasslands and open natural ecosystems for solar parks.
    • Beyond compensation:
      • What this means is that in addition to livelihood impacts, biodiversity impacts, and hydrological impacts, the climate impacts of such development projects also cannot adequately be ‘compensated’ by compensatory afforestation.

    Significance of Natural Ecosystem & way ahead

    • Carbon sequestration: 
      • Research has found that natural ecosystems sequester more carbon.
    • No comparison with the Natural Ecosystem:
      • We have known all along that creating single-species plantations in, say, Haryana does not really come close to a natural sal forest lost to a development project in, say, Central Indian forests in terms of biodiversity, local livelihoods, hydrological services, and sequestered carbon.
    • Time consuming:
      • Of these, sequestered carbon recovers fastest under fast-growing plantations, but even then, it will take many decades before it approaches the level of carbon sequestered in a natural forest. 

    Report findings on solar & wind power generation

    • IPCC report findings:
      • The IPCC report also found that the sole option (among those evaluated) with more mitigating potential than “reducing conversion of natural ecosystems” was solar power and that the third-highest was wind power.
    • Conflicts with the solar parks & wind farms in India:
      • Solar:
        • Many solar parks in India have triggered conflicts with people living nearby because they render the land inaccessible and increase local water consumption.
      • Wind:
        • A 2018 study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution also found that wind farms in the Western Ghats had reduced the “abundance and activity of predatory birds, which consequently increased the density of lizards”. 
        • It concluded that “wind farms have emerging impacts that are greatly underestimated”.
    • Choosing them over the conversion of natural ecosystems:
      • However, the IPCC report also noted that “reducing conversion of natural ecosystems” could be more expensive than wind power, yet still less expensive than “ecosystem restoration, afforestation, [and] restoration”, for every GtCO2e.

     

    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

    • An intergovernmental body of the United Nations (UN).
    • Established by World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1988.
    • Membership: 
      • Open for all the members of the WMO and UN.
    • Function of IPCC:
      • It provides objective scientific information in order to understand human- induced climate change. 
        • It also covers natural, political & economic impacts of these anthropogenic climate changes and possible response options.
      • IPCC does not carry out its own original research.
      • It does not monitor climate or related phenomena itself.
      • However, it conducts a systematic review of published literature and then produces a comprehensive assessment report.