A report released on March 20, that originates in the Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N. expert body, states that not degrading existing ecosystems in the first place will do more to lower the impact of the climate crisis than restoring ecosystems that have been destroyed — a finding that speaks to an increasingly contested policy in India that has allowed forests in one part of the country to be cut down and ‘replaced’ with those elsewhere.

Why is afforestation contested?

  • India has committed to adding “an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5-3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover by 2030”, as part of its climate commitments to the U.N.
  • Afforestation is also codified in the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), a body chaired by the Environment Minister.
  • When forest land is diverted to non-forest use, such as building a dam or a mine, that land can longer provide its historical ecosystem services nor host biodiversity.
  • 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 land value and the afforestation exercise. That land will, thereafter, be stewarded by the forest department.

Why does CAMPA matter?

  • The money paid sits in a fund overseen by the CAMPA. As of 2019, the fund had ₹47,000 crore.
  • The CAMPA has come under fire for facilitating the destruction of natural ecosystems in exchange for forests to be set up in faraway places.

Why do natural ecosystems matter?

  • Research has found that nature ecosystems sequester more carbon.
  • Within the climate action ecosystem, [the report’s finding] also means that climate action, such as technologies to combat climate change, renewable energy farms, etc., should not come at the cost of natural ecosystems

How do ecosystems compare to renewable energy?

  • The IPCC report also found that the sole option (among those evaluated) with more mitigating potential than “reducing conversion of natural ecosystems” was solar power and that the third-highest was wind.
  • But many solar parks in India have triggered conflicts with people living nearby because they limit land-use and increase local water consumption.
  • A 2018 study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution also found that wind farms in the Western Ghats had reduced the “abundance and activity of predatory birds, which consequently increased the density of lizards”.
  • However, the IPCC report also noted that “reducing conversion of natural ecosystems” could be more expensive than wind power, yet still less expensive than “ecosystem restoration, afforestation, [and] restoration”, for every GtCO2e.


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