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Large-scale plantation detrimental to biodiversity: Global biodiversity panel

ByJayashree Nandi
Jun 11, 2021 12:21 PM IST

IPBES, an intergovernmental organisation on biodiversity issues, had held a four-day workshop last December with these 50 experts who compiled a report based on the latest science on climate change and biodiversity

Large scale afforestation and bioenergy plantations are likely to reduce nature’s contribution to people and prevent achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) like hunger and poverty reduction, 50 leading biodiversity experts and scientists have said in a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released on Thursday.

Representational image. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

IPBES, an intergovernmental organisation on biodiversity issues, had held a four-day workshop last December with these 50 experts who compiled a report based on the latest science on climate change and biodiversity which was peer reviewed and published.

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Some of the findings and recommendations of the report are relevant to India, which is planning to boost plantations to achieve one of its nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement-- create additional carbon sink of 2.5 -3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover. The environment ministry is considering making common lands accessible to private parties with an arrangement of benefit-sharing with locals, according to environment ministry officials. This will also be captured in India’s forest policy. “We are waiting for Cabinet nod. The forest policy has various instruments to promote plantations,” a senior environment ministry official said.

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Large-scale tree planting can be harmful to biodiversity and food production due to competition for land. This can lead to displacement effects (indirect land-use change).

Afforestation may even reduce existing ecosystem carbon storage, cause further biodiversity loss and displace local people or curtail their access to land. Single species plantations can increase pests and disease. Instead, IPBES experts have recommended that governments focus on preventing destruction of existing forests.

Significant reductions in the destruction and degradation of forest ecosystems; non-forest terrestrial ecosystems such as wetlands and peatlands, grasslands and savannas; and coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and deep water and polar blue carbon habitats can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land- and sea-use change and maintain large carbon sinks if properly managed.

“For instance, reducing deforestation and forest degradation can contribute to lowering annual anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with emission saving estimates ranging from 0.4–5.8 GtCO2 e yr-1. On a per area basis, some ecosystems are even more important carbon sinks than forests; for example, mangroves may sequester four times more carbon than rainforests per unit area. Destruction and degradation are also the most important drivers of biodiversity loss in terrestrial and freshwater,” the report has concluded.

Protected areas currently represent only about 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. Positive outcomes on biodiversity loss and climate change are expected from substantially increasing intact and effectively protected areas, authors said.

Biodiversity loss and climate change are both driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other which is why a workshop was organised on their relationship. “Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions. Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles” said Prof. Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the Scientific Steering Committee in a statement.

Tropical coral reefs-- highly sensitive to warming and ocean acidification, savannas which are experiencing vegetation shifts due to increasing atmospheric CO2; tropical forests experiencing vegetation shifts mainly due to drying); high latitude and altitude ecosystems and mediterranean-climate ecosystems and coastal ecosystems are among the most vulnerable ecosystems of the world are already highly impacted, the report added, highlighting the importance of keeping global warming well below 2°C.

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