India’s disputed compensatory afforestation policy at odds with new IPCC report

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Source: The post is based on the article “India’s disputed compensatory afforestation policy at odds with new IPCC report” published in The Hindu on 24th March 2023

What is the News?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its Synthesis Report. The report has challenged India’s compensatory afforestation policy that allows forests in one part to be cut down and replaced with those elsewhere.

Afforestation in India

Afforestation is 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 is codified in the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).

CAMPA is a body created on the Supreme Court’s orders in 2002 and chaired by the Environment Minister. It is meant to promote afforestation and regeneration activities as a way of compensating for forest land diverted to non-forest uses.

Note: According to the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, the project proponent that wishes to divert the land must identify land elsewhere to afforest and pay for the afforestation exercise.

What are the issues with CAMPA?

Unutilised fund: The money paid to CAMPA sits in a fund, but most of the fund remained unspent until 2013, leading to criticism of facilitating the destruction of natural ecosystems. 

Impacting Endangered landscape: CAMPA has also come under fire for funding projects that endangered landscape connectivity and biodiversity corridors.

Artificial plantations: Planting non-native species or artificial plantations wouldn’t compensate for the ecosystem loss as well be hazardous to the existing ecosystem.

– For example, the Haryana govt is planning to develop the world’s largest curated safari using CAMPA funds received from deforestation in Great Nicobar.

Why is the Afforestation policy of India at odds with the IPCC report?

IPCC’s latest Synthesis Report has pointed out that not degrading existing ecosystems in the first place will do more to lower the impact of the climate crisis than restoring ecosystems (through afforestation) that have been destroyed.

These findings are at odds with the afforestation policy in India that has allowed forests in one part of the country to be cut down and ‘replaced’ with those elsewhere.

What does the IPCC report say on renewable energy?

The IPCC report found that the sole option (among those evaluated) with more mitigating potential than “reducing conversion of natural ecosystems” was solar power and the third-highest was wind power. 

But many solar parks in India have triggered conflicts with people living nearby because they render the land inaccessible and increase local water consumption.

Moreover, wind farms in the Western Ghats had reduced the abundance and activity of predatory birds which consequently increased the density of lizards.

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