India’s forest cover accounts for 20.6 per cent of the total geographical area of the country as of 2005. In addition, tree cover accounts for 2.8 per cent of India’s geographical area. Forest cover is defined as all lands, more than one hectare in area with a tree canopy density of more than 10 per cent, while, tree cover is defined as tree patches outside recorded forest areas exclusive of forest cover and less than the minimum mappable area of one hectare.
Over the last two decades, progressive national forestry legislations and policies in India aimed at conservation and sustainable management of forests have reversed deforestation and have transformed India’s forests into a significant net sink of CO2. From 1995 to 2005, the carbon stocks stored in our forests and trees have increased from 6,245 million tons (MT) to 6,662 MT, registering an annual increment of 38 MT of carbon or 138 MT of CO2 equivalent.
Estimates show that the annual CO2 removals by India’s forest and tree cover is enough to neutralise 11.25 per cent of India’s total GHG emissions (CO2 equivalent) at 1994 levels, the most recent year for which comparable data is available for developing countries based on their respective National Communications (NATCOMs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Second National Communication, a comprehensive inventory of India’s Greenhouse Gases, is under preparation and will be available by November 2010. This will provide data up to 2000 as required by UNFCCC. The annual CO2 removals are equivalent to offsetting 100 per cent emissions from all energy in residential and transport sectors; or 40 per cent of total emissions from the agriculture sector.
Future Carbon Stocks
India is one of the few developing countries in the world that is making a net addition to its forest and tree cover over the last two decades. Based on actual and projected trends of investments in the forestry sector, three scenarios have been presented of the future carbon stocks in the forest and tree cover of India.
In the first scenario, the carbon stocks in India’s forest and tree cover decrease at the rate of the world average – assuming the same rate of decline in forest and tree cover as the world average from 2000 to 2005 i.e. 0.18 per cent per annum (FAO, State of the World’s Forests, Rome, 2005). Under this scenario, the total carbon stored in India’s forests in 2015 will decrease to 6,504 MT.
In the second scenario, the carbon stocks in India’s forest and tree cover continue to increase at the historical rate of the last decade (0.6 per cent per annum). Under this scenario, the total carbon stored in India’s forests in 2015 will increase to 6,998 MT.
In the third scenario, the carbon stocks in India’s forest and tree cover increase at a rate higher than the historical rate of increase. Under this scenario, the total carbon stored in India’s forests in 2015 will increase to 7,283 MT. This is the path that India intends to tread.
India has launched a series of progressive policy initiatives on Sustainable Management of Forests (SMF) as well as Afforestation and Reforestation (A&R), which involve significant additional resources for sustaining and growing India’s forest cover. This includes the world’s largest Forest Restitution Fund of US$ 2.5b (June 2009), which is a Fund into which industry and other users of forest land for non-forestry purposes, deposit payments to compensate for the expected environmental costs. This Fund is being deployed for SMF and A&R programmes. A policy is also being formulated to include forestry related activities in employment schemes of the country, which also includes introducing new forestry related schemes on components such as capacity building in the forestry sector. These measures will provide annual public expenditure of US$ 1b on forestry related activities. It is expected that the Restitution Fund, coupled with other policy initiatives in the forestry and allied sectors will be able to improve the forest density of 50 per cent of the open and degraded forests of India. It is also expected that increased funding and new forestry related initiatives will be able to improve the biomass in the treated open forests by 7 per cent every year that would effect an increase of 285 MT of carbon in these forests up to the year 2015.
Value of Mitigation
Putting a conservative value of US$ 5 per ton of CO2 locked in our forests, this huge sink of about 24,000 MT of CO2 is worth US$ 120b, or Rs 6,00,000 crores. Incremental carbon under scenario three will add a value of around US$ 1.2b, or Rs 6,000 crores every year to India’s treasury of forest sink, assuming a value of US$ 7 per ton.
Source: Dr J Kishwan, 2009, ‘India’s Forest and Tree Cover: Contribution as a Carbon Sink’, Technical Paper No 130, ICFRE