Nature’s call: Now’s the time to answer

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Nature’s call: Now’s the time to answer

Friday, 12 November 2021 | Bkp Sinha

Nature’s call: Now’s the time to answer

Protection of forests is critical not only to reduce emissions, but also to conserve biodiversity and to support sustainable development

There is a high concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in towns and cities where the populations are dense and per capita electricity consumption is high. It is therefore necessary for every town and city to have an urban forest. Urban forest refers to planting trees in densely populated areas, like parks, streetways, and private properties.

Like any other forest, it captures and stores atmospheric carbon dioxide during photosynthesis to help mitigate climate change.It is also crucial to properly manage and log natural forest patches and protect them from construction and other development activities in order to maintain their carbon sink capabilities.

The implications of global warming, including sea-level rise, temperature changes, precipitation change and more frequent extreme weather events, made it crucial to examine greenhouse costs. Thus, the work by William Nordhaus (an American economist) such as the DICE (Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy), FUND (Regional Integrated model of Climate and the Economy) & PAGE (Policy Analysis of Greenhouse Effect) [which are a part of Integrated Assessment Models (IAM)] are used to estimate the social cost of carbon which is the present value of the net future harms caused by an additional ton of emissions in a particular year. The IAM model is a quantitative model that describes how the economy and the climate are interwoven worldwide.

He also suggested that governments around the world should impose a carbon tax in order to combat negative externalities caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, a carbon tax would provide additional revenue to the federal government that could be used to conserve and develop forests, thereby reducing the unequal impact of climate change on the affluent and the poor. The model concludes that attempts should be made to reduce emissions, even at economic cost. 

Tropical forests are home to many unique species of animals and plants as well as provide food, medicine, and clean drinking water to the people. They regulate regional rainfall and prevent droughts and floods in the region. Thus, their protection from deforestation and degradation is critical not only to reduce emissions, but also to conserve biodiversity and support sustainable development.

Spatial fragmentation affects mating patterns, gene flow and pollen dispersion within plant populations that are essential to maintaining genetic diversity. Presently, degradation and fragmentation of habitats are the leading causes of biodiversity loss in terrestrial ecosystems. Therefore, the people who rely on these resources are likely to suffer the most.

In the coming years, climate change will cause major ecological and economic disasters in coastal cities, where mangroves and water bodies are rapidly disappearing. Mangrove vegetation will become uninhabitable if it is not aggressively protected now. Furthermore, waves, storms, and cyclones will likely make coastal areas inhospitable. 

Himalayan range forests provide vital protection and are the most vulnerable to climate change. A large variety of medicinal plants grow in the sub alpine and alpine regions of the western Himalayas due to their diverse topography and climate. Medical plants play a crucial role in health care. Millions of people make a living as traditional healers or collectors or vendors of these plants. It is possible that climate change could have harmful effects on medicinal plants, such as a decrease in availability and species extinction.

In 2009, State Governments and Union Territories were asked to assess their climate vulnerability and devise state action plans to combat climate change. This is the first time the SAPCCs has facilitated discussions on state-specific climate change solutions. One of the major goals of SAPCC (State Action Plan on Climate Change) is to protect the State from the adverse effects of climate change and improve its ecological sustainability.

Most coastal states have developed climate change action plans, which are under the purview of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). However, there are no clear guidelines on how states should coordinate their strategies. In addition, it is less clear how the MoEFCC is going to steer independent ministries towards a common climate-change mandate.

At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, a breakthrough was achieved in the fight against climate change and its negative effects. As part of the agreement, all (192) countries have committed to reduce emissions and work together to adapt climate change. In addition, countries were urged to strengthen their commitments over time. The countries agreed to outline publicly what climate protection measures they intend to take in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDC provided India with a unique opportunity to strengthen its institutional capacity for climate change strategies, particularly in relation to development issues.But the INDC documents are merely a collection of domestic policies with the exception of the forest pledge and is also limited to ongoing actions rather than coming up with new initiatives. There is little evidence to suggest that the NDC has made any additional contribution to the development and improvement in a national climate policy. However, the process of its formation demonstrated a deliberate attempt at inter-ministerial coordination. MoEFCC initiated intensive consultations with various ministries, departments, state authorities and inter-ministerial committees were constituted to prepare sector-specific background materials. Research organizations and think tanks were also consulted for input on modelling studies.

The question arises, what can be done at grassroots level to make trees, forests, and biodiversity more resilient and more adaptable to the impending climate crisis? Climate change and other environmental challenges have made it crucial to understand how we can build resilience in society, nature and interconnected socio-ecological systems.

It is imperative that not only politicians and bureaucrats, but all groups of citizens are enlightened enough to take action and put pressure on the decision makers to respect the forest for its ecological services in the context of climate change in India.

Climate change will have a lasting impact on the way we produce, transport, build, and think about forests. Therefore massive efforts are required to promote research in engineering, agriculture, architecture, transportation, and health services, as pollution is one of the main causes of most illnesses in India.

To keep the environment healthy, India needs more resilient plan driven by communities. Furthermore, to protect communities, we need to develop ecological & reliable technical solutions. Different methods are required to achieve carbon-free agriculture, architecture, transport, production, and consumption, etc.

It is important to include 'Conservation of Forest' in early childhood education so that the children become more conscious of their actions from a young age. Empathy towards environment and all living creatures is an important value that schools need to inculcate in children. Broad brush approach needs to be refined in order to make curriculum more interesting for students of diverse streams.

Climate change has global implications and nations must take coordinated action to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Diplomats from developed countries such as the United States, Germany, Netherlands, Japan and other EU countries should prioritize fostering international cooperation to transfer technologies and funds for research, education, forest conservation and development of forest resources.

(The writer is a former Indian Forest Service officer. The views expressed are personal.)

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