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Insights into Editorial: Growing Forests in the Air

Insights into Editorial: Growing Forests in the Air

26 October 2015

The Union Environment Ministry, on 2nd October, submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Ministry has proposed to:

  1. Reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level.
  2. Achieve about 40% electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030 with help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance.
  3. Create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

The ministry has proposed to achieve the 3rd target through existing programmes and schemes such as the National Afforestation Programme (NAP), Joint Forest Management (JFM), the Green India Mission (GIM) and compensatory afforestation (CA).

Performance of various afforestation programmes in India:

The history of afforestation programmes and their indifferent outcomes in India is not promising. India has had numerous centrally sponsored plantation programmes such as the National Afforestation Pragramme (NAP).

  • According to various reports the survival rate of trees planted under various afforestation programmes in India is only 10-20%. This is worrisome and calls into question the very schemes expected to deliver these contributions.
  • Various surveys also show that growing and maintaining forests has proven difficult for India’s Forest bureaucracy.
  • The Thirty-Sixth Report of the Lok Sabha Secretariat Committee on Estimates (Fifteenth Lok Sabha) on ‘National Afforestation Programme’ in February 2014 observed that the outcome of the NAP, launched in 2002, had been negative. The committee observed that even after spending thousands of crores of rupees, the total area under forest cover had declined by 367 sq km.

Why the 3rd proposed INDC target appears unrealistic?

  • The INDCs propose to rely on existing mechanisms without a review of its earlier outcomes. Several reports, even from the government, have questioned the efficacy of earlier programmes.
  • Fixing concrete targets for afforestation also open up uncomfortable questions for the government such as the availability of land for greening.
  • The proposed target is isolated from the other sectoral growth targets such as those under ‘clean’ energy through nuclear, ‘clean’ coal and hydro power projects. The commitments to expand these sectors do not acknowledge their footprint on forest areas. Almost all such energy projects would require the diversion of forest land under the Forest (Conservation) Act. And such forest diversion is not accounted for in the growth projections made.
  • The current rate of forest diversion to other uses like coal mining, power generation, construction of roads or ports is approximately 35,000 ha annually. There are pending project proposals that seek the diversion of 3414.84 ha of forest land. These diversions are not taken into account.
  • The government has suggested that the participation of the private sector will green degraded forests. However, the private sector has only shown a propensity for deforestation.
  • Even the scientifically trained bureaucracy has so far not been able to achieve national forestry targets.
  • Even if the target is achieved, there is no guarantee that these areas will not be diverted for non-forest use if the latter seems more beneficial in monetary terms.


India’s intended contribution on forests to mitigate climate change ignores the rich history of landscape management practices involving communities living in forests and is uninformed of the impact of the growing energy sector on forests. Without both these, India’s INDCs will not create any forests with roots on the ground.