Compensatory afforestation is unlikely to compensate for the loss of carbon stocks
- In its planned country-level contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India committed to “create an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 GtCO2e by the through additional forest and tree cover by 2030 ”.
- India undertakes compensatory afforestation under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Planning and Management Authority (CAMPA), an institutional mechanism responsible for receiving and managing funds for compensatory afforestation.
- Experts questioned CAMPA’s ability to compensate for lost old-growth and carbon-rich forests. They say the complex biodiversity of a forest can never be offset by a monoculture plantation.
In a scene from Sherni, a recent Hindi film illustrating the complicated wildlife conservation policy in the tiger forests of Madhya Pradesh, when Vidya Vincent, a district forestry officer, confronts her superior Bansilal Bansal, according to which the natives of the village bordering the tiger forest n ‘have no choice but to venture into the forest for cattle grazing because the land where they used to take their cattle is now used for teak plantations, he replies, “So? We receive funds every year exclusively for planting trees. We have to plant them somewhere, and this particular land has the most fertile soil. When she asks him where the people in the village should go, he shrugs in response, “They can go anywhere.” They don’t concern us. Although the film is fictional, it depicts very real situations in India and its forests. The “tree planting funds” referred to by the character Bansilal Bansal are part of a law in India which falls under the Management and Planning Authority of the Compensatory Reforestation Fund (CAMPA). The glaring issue of the use of common land for plantations is a major bone of contention with this authority.
Afforestation, by definition, is the establishment of a forest in an area that previously had no forest cover. All over the world, it is a sought-after method for tackling concerns about climate change. Trees absorb carbon, and if a forest can absorb more carbon than it releases, it becomes a carbon sink.
Afforestation is broadly of two types: naturally regenerated forests, which research shows are much more efficient at absorbing carbon, and plantation forests, which are generally of the same age and species. According to data from the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, about three percent of the world’s forests are in plantation forests.
In India, one of the main means by which afforestation takes place is compensatory afforestation, which under the Forest Conservation Act (1980) is defined as “afforestation carried out instead of reallocation of land. forestry for non-forestry purposes “.
India is continually losing forest land to infrastructure and industrial projects. In its planned national contribution (INDC) presented in October 2016 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Paris Agreement 2015), India also pledged to “create a carbon sink (cumulative ) an additional 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
Under compensatory afforestation, when forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes, project promoters are required to provide funds to the state forestry department to effect afforestation on non-forest land of equal size or to improve double the size of degraded forest land. of the diverted ground. To streamline the management of funds, CAMPA was established at the state level to monitor, assist and evaluate compensatory reforestation activities in the respective states. State-level CAMPAs are controlled by a National CAMPA Advisory Council.
Over time, CAMPA has accumulated a body of over 50,000 crore (500 billion rupees). In 2016, a bill on the management of the compensatory reforestation fund was passed, in which the central government would provide the corpus funds to state governments so that they could carry out reforestation activities in their respective states. The bill and its rules have been the subject of several criticisms.
Does Offset Afforestation Increase India’s Carbon Sink?
According to the 2019 Forest Survey of India report, India’s total forest cover accounts for 24.56% of the country’s total geographic area. It plans to increase this area to 33 percent by 2030, as part of the National Mission for Green India, one of the eight missions of the National Climate Change Action Plan (NAPCC) that aims increase tree cover on five million hectares of designated forests and non – designated forest lands and improve tree cover on an additional five million hectares.
But how does it work if forests continue to be diverted for non-forest purposes?
“We have cut down an old growth forest and say that this densely wooded area can be adequately compensated by planting saplings elsewhere,” says Manan Bhan, a forestry researcher pursuing a doctorate in social ecology at the University of Natural Resources and Sciences. life, Vienna. “From a purely carbon accounting perspective, the new plantation cannot compensate for the loss of carbon stocks and other ecosystem services provided by old-growth forests within a realistic timeframe,” he explained during a telephone conversation with Mongabay-India.
Every state in India, he explained, generally recommends planting certain types of species. For example, the 2019-2020 annual report of the Forestry Department of Uttarakhand indicates that they had plantations of deodar, oaks, bamboo and mulberry trees. Each state has its own criteria for plantations. Experts say bamboo, teak, and eucalyptus are generally popular choices.
“It comes with some problems. For example, the choice of tree species for a new plantation is often chosen without due regard to its wider ecological value, ”says Bhan. In an article criticizing the Compensatory Afforestation Bill, he wrote: “Compensating for forest cover by growing non-native and artificial plantations elsewhere may not result in compensation for lost forest benefits and is likely to be dangerous. for the existing ecosystem. “
Sharachchandra Lele, forest governance researcher and Distinguished Fellow in Environmental Policy and Governance at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) says socio-ecological tradeoffs are well known. “Science will tell you that the fastest growing trees will sequester more carbon, and science will also tell you that these trees are often harmful to the hydrology and biodiversity of the forest. Research has shown that a monoculture plantation can never compensate for the complex biodiversity of a forest. Referring to everything under the umbrella term “forest” is the problem, because it hides, rather than revealing, these compromises, ”he told Mongabay-India.
Bhan adds: “While the ISFR 2019 reports an increase in forest carbon stocks in India, which now stand at 7,124 MtC, there is little opportunity to verify whether this increase is from newly established plantations or old-growth forests. . In addition, their own projections indicate that we may be below our nationally determined contribution targets. It is a source of concern. “
During the last monsoon session of Parliament, India’s Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, told Rajya Sabha that the term “forest” has yet to be defined by the central government. . “The word ‘forest’ is not defined in any Central Forest Act, namely the Indian Forest Act (1927) or the Forest Conservation Act (1980). The central government has not established any criteria to define the forest, ”he said.
Where is the land to build a forest?
In Goa, forest land diverted for non-forest purposes is offset by afforestation in other states, such as Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Campaigners protested against this, stating their obvious confusion over how one can expect to compensate for the shaving of a forest by compensating for it in a completely different state.
Land grabbing, in the name of compensatory afforestation, has also been well documented. Tribal communities and forest dwellers are the legitimate custodians of community forest resources under the 2006 Forest Rights Act, experts say. “The Forest Rights Act recognizes the rights of tribal communities living in forests and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities depended for various needs, including livelihood, housing and other needs. socio-cultural, ”Sanghamitra explained. Dubey, independent researcher and expert on the Forest Rights Act.
The gram sabha (village council) is also a body empowered by law, allowing tribal people to have a say in determining local policies and projects that affect them. “The Compensatory Afforestation Bill does not recognize FRA or gram sabhas in any way,” she said. “They want to change the bottom-up approach to a top-down application,” she said.
“The government has virtually no land left and is seizing land from forest communities. This is one of the biggest challenges facing afforestation today, ”explains Lele. “The implementation challenges can only be resolved if the forest rights issues are resolved. The community forest resources gram sabhas should have the management authority for these lands, they should be the ones who receive the money for any afforestation program, ”he said.
Assessment and monitoring
The media reported that one of the most senior forestry officials said that 70 percent of the data received by the central ministry on afforestation is incorrect and incomplete. Crucial information is missing with the data non-uniformity in the Ministry of Environment’s online portal, and the digitization is not complete. On condition of anonymity, a retired forestry official told Mongabay-India that monitoring as an activity is not yet very well implemented. “The assessment has to be done after ten years, but that doesn’t happen,” he said.
“There are so many things that can go wrong during afforestation,” Bhan says. “For example, the survival rate of saplings is often extremely variable in new plantings, but all that is recorded is the number of saplings planted. Year-to-year monitoring is key. It is never a 100% success as it is claimed, ”he said.
Banner image: Teak plantations in Kerala. Photo by Anand.osuri / Wikimedia Commons.