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Climate and us: Protecting landscapes, biodiversity will be key in 2022

Climate and us: As we usher in the New Year, and the government’s policies on the environment are carried over for debate in 2022, landscapes must be seen beyond their utility for the economy.
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While reforms in forest governance may be welcome, are we managing to strike a balance between diversion of natural forests and plantation efforts? (HT Photo)
Updated on Dec 27, 2021 04:48 PM IST
ByJayshree Nandi

It has been an eventful year for the environment sector in India. Not only because the environment ministry launched largescale reforms to rationalise the current economic needs of the country but also because India took an important stand on behalf of the global south at the Glasgow climate change negotiations (COP 26) last month.

But do domestic reforms agree with India’s positioning globally as a climate leader? That is something that will be watched next year.

With this in mind, I looked at all the major decisions that were taken in the environment sector this year. Some of them made me particularly anxious such as the large-scale development and land use change plans for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep that came to light earlier in the year.

The environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee considered multiple infrastructure projects in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2021 including luxury tents and resorts on some islands; two water aerodrome projects in Shaheed and Swaraj islands (formerly Neil and Havelock islands respectively); two major township and area development projects on the Great Nicobar Island and Little Andaman, one of which is also likely to involve the denotification of a tribal reserve.

RELATED STORIES

The Lakshadweep administration introduced the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021 in April that seeks to develop the islands as a major tourist destination akin to the Maldives, according to UT Administrator Praful Khoda Patel.

Scientists and former bureaucrats have put up a stiff resistance against the draft saying that it ignores Lakshadweep’s vulnerability to the climate crisis, rights and culture of indigenous people. The Lakshadweep Administration’s website shows it has called on companies to bid for beach and water villas in the Minicoy, Kadmat and Suheli Islands.

Before the Centre moves forward on these so-called development projects, it would be good to do a vulnerability and social impact assessment.

Another worrying development this year that needs to be discussed threadbare is a consultation paper on amending the Forest Conservation Act 1980 that the environment ministry introduced in October. The paper calls for significant changes to forest governance in India including facilitating private plantations for harvesting and exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas deep beneath forest land by drilling holes from outside the forest areas. While reforms in forest governance may be welcome, are we managing to strike a balance between diversion of natural forests and plantation efforts?

One of India’s nationally determined contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement is to create a carbon sink expansion of additional (cumulative) 2.5-3 billion tonnes through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. The paper says to achieve this NDC, extensive plantations in all possible available land outside the government forests is necessary.

Clearly, its main objective is to facilitate the artificial regeneration of forests or plantations.

India is also facing an extensive loss to natural forests due to their diversion for various infrastructure projects. To compensate for the loss of natural forests due to these projects, compensatory afforestation is mandated to be done over an equivalent area of non-forest land or over degraded forest twice to the extent of the area being diverted, if non-forestland is not available.

But, it is also important to consider that plantations do not provide the same ecological services as a natural forest. A research paper by Department of Political Science, Florida State University; Social Sciences Collegiate Division, University of Chicago; Centre for Ecology Development and Research, Dehradun etc published in September found that large-scale tree plantations may not improve forest cover or provide livelihood benefits to local people. The analysis found that large-scale plantations in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra 1965 onwards have not increased the proportion of forest canopy cover and shifted tree composition from broad leafed varieties used by local people for fodder and firewood to needle leaf species which are of no use to locals.

Therefore, the consultation paper on the Forest Conservation Act 1980 needs much more scrutiny. More amendments are in the works like the Biological Diversity Amendment Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha which exempts the Ayush sector from its ambit and hence from monitoring of how the industry impacts India’s biological resources.

Among the most important books on environment released this year, Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse, Parables for a Planet in Crisis’ sums up the genesis of environmental crisis. It is to see the planet as an inert object with no intrinsic meaning and no properties other than those that make it an object of science and commerce. As we usher in the New Year, and these policies are carried over for debate in 2022, landscapes must be seen beyond their utility for the economy.

It has been an eventful year for the environment sector in India. Not only because the environment ministry launched largescale reforms to rationalise the current economic needs of the country but also because India took an important stand on behalf of the global south at the Glasgow climate change negotiations (COP 26) last month.

But do domestic reforms agree with India’s positioning globally as a climate leader? That is something that will be watched next year.

With this in mind, I looked at all the major decisions that were taken in the environment sector this year. Some of them made me particularly anxious such as the large-scale development and land use change plans for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep that came to light earlier in the year.

The environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee considered multiple infrastructure projects in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2021 including luxury tents and resorts on some islands; two water aerodrome projects in Shaheed and Swaraj islands (formerly Neil and Havelock islands respectively); two major township and area development projects on the Great Nicobar Island and Little Andaman, one of which is also likely to involve the denotification of a tribal reserve.

RELATED STORIES

The Lakshadweep administration introduced the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021 in April that seeks to develop the islands as a major tourist destination akin to the Maldives, according to UT Administrator Praful Khoda Patel.

Scientists and former bureaucrats have put up a stiff resistance against the draft saying that it ignores Lakshadweep’s vulnerability to the climate crisis, rights and culture of indigenous people. The Lakshadweep Administration’s website shows it has called on companies to bid for beach and water villas in the Minicoy, Kadmat and Suheli Islands.

Before the Centre moves forward on these so-called development projects, it would be good to do a vulnerability and social impact assessment.

Another worrying development this year that needs to be discussed threadbare is a consultation paper on amending the Forest Conservation Act 1980 that the environment ministry introduced in October. The paper calls for significant changes to forest governance in India including facilitating private plantations for harvesting and exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas deep beneath forest land by drilling holes from outside the forest areas. While reforms in forest governance may be welcome, are we managing to strike a balance between diversion of natural forests and plantation efforts?

One of India’s nationally determined contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement is to create a carbon sink expansion of additional (cumulative) 2.5-3 billion tonnes through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. The paper says to achieve this NDC, extensive plantations in all possible available land outside the government forests is necessary.

Clearly, its main objective is to facilitate the artificial regeneration of forests or plantations.

India is also facing an extensive loss to natural forests due to their diversion for various infrastructure projects. To compensate for the loss of natural forests due to these projects, compensatory afforestation is mandated to be done over an equivalent area of non-forest land or over degraded forest twice to the extent of the area being diverted, if non-forestland is not available.

But, it is also important to consider that plantations do not provide the same ecological services as a natural forest. A research paper by Department of Political Science, Florida State University; Social Sciences Collegiate Division, University of Chicago; Centre for Ecology Development and Research, Dehradun etc published in September found that large-scale tree plantations may not improve forest cover or provide livelihood benefits to local people. The analysis found that large-scale plantations in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra 1965 onwards have not increased the proportion of forest canopy cover and shifted tree composition from broad leafed varieties used by local people for fodder and firewood to needle leaf species which are of no use to locals.

Therefore, the consultation paper on the Forest Conservation Act 1980 needs much more scrutiny. More amendments are in the works like the Biological Diversity Amendment Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha which exempts the Ayush sector from its ambit and hence from monitoring of how the industry impacts India’s biological resources.

Among the most important books on environment released this year, Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse, Parables for a Planet in Crisis’ sums up the genesis of environmental crisis. It is to see the planet as an inert object with no intrinsic meaning and no properties other than those that make it an object of science and commerce. As we usher in the New Year, and these policies are carried over for debate in 2022, landscapes must be seen beyond their utility for the economy.

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