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Expanding Green Canopies For Greener World

How State Government, Civil Society & Private Sector are working towards expanding afforestation contributing towards India’s Net Zero Commitments

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In November 2021, at the Conference of Parties (CoP 26) held at Glasgow, rolling out what he termed were India's "Panchamrit" (5 elixirs) for climate action, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made commitment to cut India's total projected carbon emission by 1 billion tonnes by 2030, reduce the carbon intensity of the nation's economy by less than 45 per cent by the end of the decade and net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. 

India has been at the forefront of climate action to meet the climate goals through its ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). To facilitate the achievement of India’s enhanced climate targets and to meet the future goals, the government is developing the ICM. By accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy, the ICM will facilitate achieve the NDC goal of reducing Emissions Intensity of the GDP by 45 percent by 2030 against 2005 levels.

Expanding country’s Carbon sink increasing forest cover and intensive tree plantation is one of the strategies towards the net zero target. During CY-2019, India’s gross GHG-emission was 3274 million Ton (MnT) and net-emission was 2959 MnT. Carbon-sink is about 345 MnT, mainly from forest which can be increased 2/3 times with proper plan. Currently, only 10 per cent of total forest land is having deep forest, 50 per cent is moderate forest and 40 per cent is with nil-forest. 

It indicates towards potential for expanding green cover through afforestation and well-planned agroforestry delivering quick pay-back of investment besides generating income for local residents.

Uttar Pradesh realizing the potential and its green responsibility being one of the largest and the most populous state has taken up afforestation as a major action towards climate action. 

According to the State of Forest Report 2021, 9.2 per cent of state’s area had forest cover. The government of Uttar Pradesh aims to increase the state's green cover to 15 per cent by 2030 through, ambitious & massive annual plantation drive led to plantation of 100 crore saplings in the state in the past five years. And in the next five years the government aspires to plant 175 crore saplings. The plantation target for 2023 is 35 crore saplings. 

Biennial report for 2021 showed an increase of 91 square kilometer in the green cover. The entire plantation drive will help sequestering nearly 18.55 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030. This will result in sequestration of 72 million tonnes of carbon dioxide thus achieving nearly 80 per cent of UP’s carbon sequestration target aimed till 2030[1]. 

On 31st January 2023, The Environment, Forest and Climate Change Department, GoUP and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced the launch of the “Trees Outside Forests in India (TOFI)” program in Uttar Pradesh, which will bring together farmers, companies, and other private institutions to rapidly expand tree coverage outside of traditional forests in the state.

While government is on stride towards state wide annual plantation drive, community workers & volunteers from four grassroot civil society organizations in the parched land of Bundelkhand region is busy holding meetings with farmers in remote dusty villages of Banda, Chitrakoot, Jhansi and Mahoba districts exploring prospects of agroforestry, horticultural plantation, assessing demand for preferred tree species and quantum of saplings. 

They have come up with 20 plant varieties as per local agro climatic condition and preference that they would be providing free of cost to the interested farmers who signed an agreement and commit to nurture the plants and contribute to environmental protection. 

The project started last year in 30 village Panchayats of Banda and Chitrakoot district reaching out to 2500 farmers and now being expanded to Jhansi and Mahoba districts after the success and positive response from the farmers. “We collectively seek to plant 21 lakh trees in four districts by 2030 as part of our commitment towards building climate resilience of the agrarian communities in the region facing perineal drought like situation leading to abject poverty, out migration, and more vulnerable to the climate crisis” – shared Ashok Singh, a veteran social worker and founder of Abhiyan, one of the civil society organizations leading this initiative in Chitrakoot and Banda districts. “Agro forestry and afforestation will not just help mitigate drought and climate change impact, it’ll help small marginal farmers and landless people with decent income and food security critical for their wellbeing and socioeconomic empowerment”- he emphasised. 

A number of corporates and business houses have increasingly been coming forward to support such intensive plantation drive and community agro forestry projects as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility as well as carbon offset strategy over carbon credit carbon as offsets generate reductions outside of the organization and, more importantly, outside of any regulatory requirement. 

Because carbon dioxide has global not local impact, both credits and offsets have the same reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and have the same benefit to the planet in terms of climate change.

While these initiatives are indeed positive steps and affirmative action towards building climate resilience and contribute to larger net zero target, like any other ambitious initiative, is not devoid of the teething problems and bottlenecks. It does require consistent monitoring and tightening of screws periodically. The annual ambitious plantation drive creates unprecedented momentum it does require intensive and consistent community engagement, Panchayat’s and out of the box technology for consistent monitoring and nurturing of saplings planted during the monsoon season to ensure optimal survival.

To encourage large scale plantation and agro forestry projects, carbon trading and carbon offset have the greater prospect with monetary benefits to the farmers and Panchayats. However, it remains a complex business trade that very few agencies and consultants have understanding and leveraging the benefits whereas the larger farming communities even if they are part of the business remain ignorant about the same. The carbon credits and market systems need to be decoded, made simplified for the benefit of larger communities and stakeholders as well as need to have robust regulatory system to avoid frauds in the name of carbon credits as cases in other countries are increasingly being reported. 

It is worth mentioning that the union government has recently started taking step in this direction and plans to develop the Indian Carbon Market (ICM). A national framework will be established with an objective to decarbonise the Indian economy by pricing the Green House Gas (GHG) emission through trading of the Carbon Credit Certificates. Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Ministry of Power, along with Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change are developing the Carbon Credit Trading Scheme for this purpose. 

The author is the State Programme Director (UP) of WaterAid India and has been actively involved in environment related issues 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Farrukh Rahman Khan

State Program Director, WaterAid India

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