Meeting India’s ‘carbon sink’ Target


    In Context

    • India’s carbon sink target is clearly much more ambitious and difficult than the other two that had been achieved about eight years before the deadline.

    Meaning of ‘carbon sink’

    • A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases – for example, plants, the ocean and soil
      • Protecting carbon sinks is essential for tackling climate change and keeping our climate stable. But they’re increasingly under threat.
      • The short-term impacts of rising temperatures, deforestation and farming on many vulnerable landscapes mean carbon stores on land are less likely to recover in the longer term.
      • Carbon Source:
        • In contrast, a carbon source releases more carbon into the atmosphere than it absorbs – for example, the burning of fossil fuels or volcanic eruptions.

    Efforts to enhance carbon sinks

    • Reversing historical wrongs:
      • Many efforts are being made to enhance natural carbon sinks to mainly soils and forests to mitigate climate change. 
      • These efforts counter-historical trends caused by practices like deforestation and industrial agriculture which depleted natural carbon sinks; land use, land-use change, and forestry historically have been important human contributions to climate change. 
    • Artificial sequestrations:
      • In addition to enhancing natural processes, investments in artificial sequestration initiatives are underway to store carbon in building materials or deep underground.
    • Conservation of Heritage forests:
      • UNESCO World Heritage forests can continue to be reliable carbon sinks if they are effectively protected from local and global threats. 
        • India’s Sundarbans National Park is among five sites that have the highest blue carbon stocks globally

    India’s climate targets

    • Initial targets:
      • The targets were first made in 2015 in the run-up to the Paris climate conference.
        • India’s first pledge, also known as a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), had three primary targets. 
          • The first was to reduce the emissions intensity of the economy by 33–35 per cent below 2005 levels. 
          • The second was to have 40 per cent of installed electric power from non-fossil-based energy resources by 2030. 
          • The third target was to create an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5-3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2030 through additional forest and tree cover.
    • Updated targets:
      • India updated its international climate commitments recently in 2022.
        • India now stands committed to reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45 per cent by 2030 from its 2005 levels, as per the updated NDC. 
        • The country will also target about 50 per cent of cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030.
        • To increase its carbon sink by 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 through the creation of additional forest and tree cover.

    Challenges of India’s target to increase carbon sink

    • Unlikely to meet the target:
      • Government figures in 2022 showed that in the six years since 2015, the carbon sink in the country which is the total amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by and residing in forests and trees, had increased by 703 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, or roughly by 120 million tonnes every year
      • At this pace, the target of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent was unlikely to be met by 2030.
    • Issues of the baseline year:
      • India’s target on emissions intensity specified 2005 as the baseline year. 
      • And the commitment on renewable capacity did not require a baseline because it was an absolute target.
      • The carbon sink target had not been defined precisely in 2015. 
        • India had committed “to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030”, but it had made no mention of the baseline year
        • That is, it did not say which year this additional 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of carbon sink would be measured against.
    • Ambiguity in “additional” carbon sink: 
      • In an analysis published in 2019, the Dehradun-based Forest Survey of India (FSI) pointed out that even the word “additional” in the Indian commitment could be interpreted in different ways.
      • So, “additional carbon sink” could mean 
        • (i) over and above the carbon sink that existed in the baseline year, or 
        • (ii) over and above what it would be in the target year of 2030 in the business-as-usual scenario.

    Way ahead

    • Government’s response:
      • Under the Paris Agreement, countries themselves are supposed to set their climate targets, and this includes the choice of baseline year.
      • Recently the government appeared to remove the ambiguity regarding the baseline year for the carbon sink target by committing itself to the baseline of 2005.
      • This announcement of 2005 as the baseline suddenly brought the carbon sink target within easy reach. 
    • According to the researchers, the carbon sink target required a detailed study, which could not have happened in a short time.
      • Meanwhile, the rate of increase of carbon stock in India’s forests and tree cover has been showing a rising trend.


    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] India’s carbon sink target is clearly much more ambitious and difficult than the other two. Analyse. Suggest ways to enhance carbon sinks in the country in order to achieve the target.