Forests cannot digest all our Emissions
This month the footlights are on the forests. The Haryana state government, which was recently rapped on the knuckles by the Supreme Court for ongoing the illegal mining activities in the Aravalli hills, has just announced its plans of using high-tech Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to monitor its forest cover. A few weeks before this, the Union Minster for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, released a report on ‘India’s Forest and Tree Cover-Contribution as a Carbon Sink’. It was the first ever study to calculate capacity of India’s 65 million hectare of forests to soak up carbon. Highlights of the report are:
Carbon stored in our forest has increased from 6,245 million tonnes in 1995 to 6,662 million tonnes in 2005. This is equivalent to neutralizing 100 per cent emissions from all energy in residential and transport sector or 40 per cent of total emissions from the agriculture sector. And to neutralizing 11.25 per cent of India’s total green house gas (GHG) emissions from all sectors (at 1994 levels). It also says net worth of our forests is US $120 billion or Rs 6, 00,000 crores even after a conservative estimate of US $5 per tonne of CO2.
A Vic-tree over carbon?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends that if the entire available area of 420 million hectare in developing countries was forested, it would reate a carbon sink to absorb two thirds of world’s emissions (assuming one ha forest absorbs 10 tonnes of carbon per year). This is one of the very few recommendations of IPCC, which has been readily accepted by the developed countries. Probably because it puts the onus on the developing world to reforest itself , while thy can continue to emit—‘business as usual’.
Bill Mc Kibben, founder of an NGO dedicated to arrest carbon levels at 350 ppm -350.org said “It’s like a bathtub. Increased forestation is a drain that reduces carbon, but if you’re still pouring water in from the faucet the level never really drops. So forestation can’t be a substitute for emissions reductions”
The burning issue: trees
Here’s why. What happens when something warms up? It becomes hot. And what happens when it is heated even further? It catches fire. And that is what is happening to acres of forests across the world. Europe has lost about 200,000 hectares of forest to fires till summer, which is much more than entire 2008, when 158,621 hectares were destroyed, according to the European Union. Even the now-clad ranges of the Himalayas could not save 1,00,000 hectare of alpine forests in Nepal and 25,000 ha more in Himachal Pradesh from going up in flames.
More frightening are the predictions for the future. The Research by International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) says the ability for forests to sink carbon could be lost entirely if the Earth heats up by 2.5 degrees C or more. Research by atmospheric scientists at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) warns that a type of carbon generated during forest fires, organic carbon aerosol, would build up in volume by as much as 40 per cent. In other words, forests are not only losing their capacity to absorb carbon, but are actually running the risk of becoming be carbon emitters themselves. What do you think?
Most of you have heard this word before, but do know what it actually means? Carbon obviously denotes the emission of carbon dioxide gas from our cars, factories and everything we burn. But did you know that sequestration is the Scottish legal term for personal bankruptcy? It is one way of dealing with debts you cannot pay. The sequestration proceedings free you from overwhelming debts so you can make a fresh start. This might be possible in a man-made subject of economics, but not in a man-marred subject of environment. And thus the carbon sequestration policy is flawed from the ‘word’ go.