Green highways to save coastline

Green highways to save coastline

India’s mainland coastline measures 6,100 km and if we include the Andaman Nicobar Islands, which adds another 7,500 km, the total length of the coastline will be 13,600 km.

As a result of the continuous rise in average world temperatures, depletion of polar ice caps and consequent rise in sea levels, these coastlines are being submerged and people living in these coastlines are losing their forest, land and livelihood. Safeguarding these resource structures and adjoining land by increased forestation is the need of the hour.

Suitable species, including the mangrove varieties, will have to be identified and greening has to be planned and undertaken expeditiously, and it is certainly an important component of economic and human development.

In the context of the recently concluded Paris climate change talks, the issue of India’s contribution to the world’s effort to mitigate global warming and climate change effects may be forcefully advanced. And this may even be made a part of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).

In addition, India intends to develop 1.4 lakh km of green national highways. Planting trees along these national highways and coastlines will turn out to be a great opportunity for development, including creation of employment at the lowest levels as well as at the highest levels of environmental engineering and biology. These would add to the forest wealth of India and certainly to the availability of fodder, green manure and to the preservation and upgradation of top soil quality, fertility and land productivity.

But these programmes need considerable resources and have to be harnessed both within the country and from outside. Australia, the US and other western nations have a long track record of using the highest quantities of energy and polluting the earth’s atmosphere with fossil fuel emissions. These countries have been contributing to the huge accumulation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), carbon dioxide and depletion of the ozone layer, thereby towards increasing global temperatures.

According to a “New Scientist” article, a person living in the United States and Australia has accumulated a carbon debt of $13,000, between 1990 and 2013. Relating this to “polluter pays” environment principle, a huge sum of $ 4.16 trillion is owed by these two countries alone.

A two per cent annual interest on this environmental debt will amount to $ 83.2 billion per year owed to the environmental cause, mutatis mutandis, all the energy intensive rich countries owe a lot of environmental debt. India can have a fair share from this for utilising in this prospective greening and for ameliorating global environment.

Crucial proposal

Apart from the priority coastline reforestation and land restoration, we have to deeply consider the green highway proposal. This entails upgrading water bodies and water vents leading to these high-ways and villagers of neighbouring regions can utilise these trees for their fodder and green manure needs; and may be obliged to maintain them and replenish the dead ones. Suitable species, keeping in mind the local geo-climatic conditions, may be selected.

Greening these national highways and coastal belt merits some heuristic calculations. Taking these highways alone, we could plant one tree every 10 metres, and this amounts to 200 trees per km. Taking that half of them already exist, we have to plant 100 trees per km.

And this in all amounts to 2.8 crore trees, and greening of coastal areas and forests will be naturally on a more intensive footing. Planting these trees and the antecedent production of suitable saplings will mean labour absorption at the village level and could generate unprecedented level of employment per unit expenditure on development, which can also help us to tackle poverty.

Also, suitable tree planting will enhance photosynthesis efficiency of Indian flora and will thus help mitigate the ill effects of carbon dioxide generation. Increasing tree density in our parks, forests, river banks, coastal areas and all our potential wood lands will diminish environmental pollution and may attract birds and other fauna, re-establishing earth’s tenuous and already lost symbiotic links. Redoubled tree plantation effort can indeed be a significant contribution to INDC by India.

(The writer is former professor, Maharaja’s College, University of Mysore, Mysuru)

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