Are we ready for harnessing benefits under REDD+
Climate change negotiations at Conference of Parties (COP 21) having already kick started in Paris, it is inevitable to talk about REDD+ and its readiness with respect to its measuring, monitoring, financing and social safeguards. As defined by United Nations “ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.” The Fourth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that forestry sector accounts for 17% global greenhouse gas emissions mainly through deforestation, forest degradation, forest fires, slash and burn practices, overgrazing, excess fuel wood extraction, unmanaged non timber forest products extraction, illicit felling, and disease outbreak in forests. It has been reported that developing countries have witnessed huge deforestation and forest degradation in the recent past that puts whole of the world at the receiving end with respect to climate change effects. The continents topping the list include Africa followed by Latin America with agriculture being rapidly getting converted to small scale/large scale permanent agriculture.
The recently concluded COP 20 at Lima witnessed political commitments from UN REDD and countries like Norway, Germany and UK. Financial commitments to the tune of $4.5 billion were assessed to be tracked to 14 tropical countries by these top funders. However there are certain technical issues and insufficient resources with some developing countries regarding establishment of national reference scenarios for assessment and monitoring forest carbon changes. India, from past many years has been consistently increasing its forest cover to 21.23 % (FSI, 2013) of its geographical area owing to huge investment in natural forests and plantations under different state and nationally sponsored programs viz. Green India Mission etc. India being committed to REDD+ has been working to tap global funds for increasing its forest cover and as an initiative established REDD+ authority under national steering committee in Ministry of Environment and Forests. The authority is responsible for preparing national forest carbon inventory and national reference level for carbon emissions. Different national level organizations and institutes shall be assisting the national REDD+ authority. Under such circumstances regional level studies on REDD+ assume importance for effective input into national level assessments on forest carbon and change. Regional studies can effectively measure and monitor micro climate, socio-economic perspectives, historical events, past management practices and detailed field data.
As an initiative to decipher the changes in forest cover and the associated REDD+ opportunities at regional level in southern region of Kashmir Himalayas, a study undertaken by the author and associates revealed some interesting results with respect to harnessing future benefits under REDD+. The detailed manuscript of this study is already accepted for publication by the peer reviewed Journal of Mountain Science published from China by Springer Publications. The study used Landsat satellite data for forest cover mapping and change assessment from 1980 to 2009. The study also predicted forest cover for 2030 using land use land cover modeling tools. The results suggested that the area has lost an area of 0.94 km2 of dense forest (crown density of > 40%), 16.78 km2 of open forest (crown density 10-40%) and about 108.58 km2 of forest scrub (crown density <10%) over a period of about 30 years and the overall loss in area has the potential to be claimed under the deforestation option of REDD+. Besides, the area has also witnessed forest degradation from higher category (Closed) of forests to the lower category (Open) to the tune of 70.78 km2 which can be claimed under the forest degradation option of REDD+. Owing to the growing population, there is a constant anthropogenic pressure for timber, fuel wood and fodder, which can adversely affect eco-restoration and ecological process of forests. This is probably the reason why some parts of the study area have experienced severe deforestation and degradation especially from 1992-2001, when forests could not be protected well due to political disturbances in the state. The negative impact of armed conflict during this period on the state’s forests led to illicit felling, non-compliance of management practices and absence of physical interventions for rehabilitation of degraded forests. The forest area where no change took place from 1980-2009 was found to be 1514 km2. This forest area could be recognized as the potential area for funding under conservation option of REDD+.
Lately in the last two decades the conservation and protection drive picked up momentum and an area of 16.13 km2 under non-forest category was converted to forest category as a positive change and the same can be recognized under plus (+) options of REDD+. Similarly, forest area of 6.18 km2 was elevated to a higher forest category and can be deemed appropriate for sustainable management of forests under plus (+) options of REDD+. The Kashmir Himalayan region as a whole provides a huge potential for REDD+ under its positive and negative options. As the region has mostly witnessed loss of forest cover and movement of high canopy density forest to low canopy density forest, the area is slated to get benefitted mainly under the negative options (deforestation and forest degradation) of REDD+. Additionally the area has a considerable area designated for conservation reserves beside a significant percentage of uncultivable wasteland available that can be put to forestry uses under REDD+.
A considerable amount of ground work needs to be done regarding participatory role of local people in REDD+ implementation both at state and national level. Of late, illegal timber extraction has been brought down to a considerable extent by the concerned department and allowing the sale of imported timber has contributed a lot in avoiding the pressure on local forests. Forest dwellers as well as other direct dependents need to be taken on board before envisaging things under REDD+. Continuous biotic pressure in the form of extraction of fuel wood by locals could be a major threat under carbon leakage and could hinder harnessing benefits under REDD+. The entire region experiences heavy snowfall and subzero temperature during winter months and as such the use of fuel wood is inevitable for almost five months. The consumption pattern of fuel wood is on an upward trend during the past few decades and the demand for fuel wood if not met legally will definitely come illegal sources. There is a need to identify fringe villages around the forests in context using geospatial tools for creation of alternative woodlots. Woodlots of fast growing species would act as buffer and can bring down the biotic pressure on these forests. These woodlots can be brought up with the inclusiveness of stakeholders on a sharing mechanism to be win-win situation for both.