Responsibility through forestry schemes, a winning alliance

 With the release of the Fifth Assessment Report of Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, it has been established that environmental sustainability is the need of the hour

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The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased to unprecedented levels on earth in 8,00,000 years and is presently at 400ppm (parts per million) solely attributable to anthropogenic activities. From 1750 to 2011, deforestation and other land use changes are estimated to have released 660.06 gigatonne of carbon dioxide (GtCO2), the second largest contributor to the 40 per cent increase in carbon dioxide concentrations since pre-industrial times.

Based on these findings, the recently-concluded international negotiations at the 19th Conference Of Parties in Warsaw translated to a set of decisions on Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD plus) pertaining to finance, coordination of finance for implementation of mitigation activities in developing countries, modalities of the monitoring system, proposed forest emission reference levels, measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) of forest-related emissions and addressing the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation.

All of this leading to the universal climate agreement to be held in Paris, 2015 for which countries need to prepare for their intended contributions towards this agreement, which will come into force from 2020.

Increasing emissions and compounding severity of global warming and climate change impacts pose substantial risks to businesses. It makes it imperative for them to review their carbon footprint and revise their sustainability strategies to achieve significant carbon emission reductions. Taking into consideration these pending caps on carbon emissions and understanding the importance of forests for the world, a tangible avenue for a winning alliance between the Indian forestry sector and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be established to supplement carbon emission reductions over larger scales.

This can very well be a solution to the carbon conundrum for businesses which are required to spend 2 per cent of their average net profit towards CSR and thereby achieve emission reductions as directed in the recently enacted Companies Act, 2013. The Act puts into perspective the means of achieving socially and environmentally responsible targets for businesses in India.

An activity that falls under the CSR umbrella includes ensuring environmental sustainability which is fast becoming a key concern of businesses. This is partly attributed to their entire operations being dependent on natural resources for raw materials and fuel and partly due to the mandate for businesses to explore and enhance their CSR initiatives through monitoring and reporting. The National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economical Responsibilities of Business (NVG) and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), both provide such a platform.

Changing climate

In India, numerous Governmental interventions exist that can provide a pathway for CSR. In the forestry sector, the National Action Mission for Climate Change has eight missions under its fold in specific areas - solar energy, enhanced energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water, sustaining the Himalayan eco-system, Green India, sustainable agriculture and strategic knowledge for climate change which includes assessment of the impact and actions needed to address Climate Change.

Of particular importance is the National Mission for a Green India or Green India Mission (GIM) which aims at enhancing carbon sinks in sustainably managed forests and other ecosystems, adaptation of vulnerable species/ecosystems to the changing climate and adaptation of forest-dependent communities. GIM and REDD plus are both based on the central principle of forest conservation and enhancement of ecosystem services for carbon and non-carbon benefits.

According to a recent news report, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) is seeking private sector participation for their Green India Mission programme. This Rs 46,000-crore project spanning a 10 year period, is set to converge with schemes with those of ministry of rural development like Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Rural Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). It would be of significance to explore the feasibility for businesses to contribute to and participate in the GIM fund augmentation. Businesses are primarily searching for avenues to achieve higher quantity and quality reductions which provides adequate time frame to plan out their operational strategies.

Notwithstanding the importance of actual emission reductions, businesses require offsetting emissions to balance out their target reductions annually. Though offsetting carbon is a contentious issue, in a programme like GIM there are multiple tangible benefits to be accrued socially as well as environmentally, worthy of further investigations in its feasibility.

The mission will provide adequate scope for flexibility as the businesses look to contribute to the fund generally and achieve offsets based on the mission outputs specifically. Businesses stand to gain from such alliances as the responsibility to find credible projects, monitoring, evaluation and verification, appropriate and effective management of funds lies with the Governing Body. Subsequently, businesses will receive recognition and quantifiable emission reductions to support their sustainability policies.

It is expected that these reductions could demand a significant value in the carbon markets. Findings of the report by Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace State of the Forest Carbon Markets, 2013 suggest that the private sector remained the largest source of demand, responsible for 70 per cent of market activity.

However, using offsets in an uncertain carbon market requires further investigation, as is being concluded in the 2015 Climate Agreement where the future of carbon market based mechanisms will be revealed. Till then supporting programs such as Green India Mission under the CSR umbrella prove to be a gainful alliance.

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