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Forest and the Green Economy. Economic progress and human well being are dependent on healthy forests. It is widely acknowledged that forests provide numerous benefits to humanity including improvement of the quality of the environment. According to the UNEP (2011), forests serve as carbon sinks and stabilize global climate, regulate water cycles and provide habitats for biodiversity while hosting a wide variety of genetic resources. Moreover, forests are a critical link in the transition to a green economy – one that promotes sustainable development and poverty eradication as we move towards a low-carbon and more equitable future. According to Mathur and Sachdeva of the Planning Commission of India (2003), forests are a source of natural habitat for biodiversity and are a repository of genetic wealth; provide means for recreation and opportunity for eco-tourism. In addition, forests help in watershed development, regulate water regime, conserve soil, and control floods. Degradation of forest resources has a detrimental effect on soil, water and climate, which in turn affects human and animal life. This has created global concern for protection and preservation of forests. Verma and Madhu (2000) of the Indian Institute of Forest Management Bhopal identified three important functions that forests provide for the natural system. Its protective function includes soil protection by absorption and deflection, radiation, precipitation and wind; conservation of humidity and carbon dioxide by decreasing wind velocity and sheltering and providing required conditions for plants and animal species. Through its regulative function, forests helps in absorption, storage and release of CO2, O2 and mineral elements; absorption of aerosols and sound; absorption, storage and release of water; absorption and transformation of radiant and thermal energy. And through its productive functions, forests helps in efficient storage of energy in utilizable form in phyto and zoo mass; self regulating and regenerative processes of wood bark, fruit and leaf production and production of a wide array of chemical compounds, such as resins, alkaloids, essential oils, latex, pharmaceuticals etc. India, a mega diverse country with only 2.4 percent of the land area, accounts for 7-8 percent of the recorded species of the world, including over 45,500 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals. India is also one of the 17 identified mega diverse countries having two hot spots namely, Eastern Himalaya and Western Ghats. India, with a varied terrain, topography, land use, geographic and climatic factors, is further divided into ten recognizable bio-geographic zones. These zones encompass a variety of ecosystems: mountains, plateaus, rivers, forests, deserts, wetlands, lakes, mangroves, coral reefs, coasts and islands. The Tenth Five Year Plan has proposed raising the forest and tree cover for the country to 25 percent in 2007 and 33 percent by 2012. However, according to the latest State of Forest Report (SFR) 2011, the Forest and Tree cover of the country is 78.29 million hectare (mh), which is 23.81 percent of the geographical area of the country. The report shows that India is unlikely to achieve its target of 33 percent forest cover. During the ten years period from 2001 to 2011, the forest cover increased from 67 mh (20.6 percent) to 78.29 mh (23.81 percent) showing an increase of 3.21 percent. The SFR 2011 also states that there is a decrease of 367 square km in country’s forest cover in comparison to the 2009 assessment. Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country with 77,700 square km followed by Arunachal Pradesh at 67, 410 square km. In terms of percentage of forest cover in relation to total geographical area, Mizoram tops with 90.68% followed by Lakshadweep with 84.56%. North East India accounts for one-fourth of the country’s forest cover, yet there is a reduction to the tune of 549 in forest cover comparing to previous assessment. Forest fire is also another major cause for destruction of forest. The Forest Survey of India reported 13,898 fire incidences in the country in 2010-11. The 2009 State of Environment Report (SER) of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) commented that the current practice of shifting cultivation in the eastern and north-eastern regions of India is an extravagant and unscientific form of land use. According to a recent estimate, an area of 18765.86 sq. km is under shifting cultivation. The effects of shifting cultivation are devastating and far-reaching in degrading

the environment and ecology of these regions. The report says that the earlier 15–20 years cycle of shifting cultivation on a particular land has been reduced to two or three years now. This has resulted in large-scale deforestation, soil and nutrient loss, and invasion by weeds and other species. Also, the indigenous biodiversity has been affected to a large extent. As per the statistics, Orissa accounts for the largest area under shifting cultivation in India. Forests are not just trees, but part of an ecosystem that underpins life, economies and societies. Population pressure, poverty and weak institutional framework have often been viewed as the predominant underlying causes of forest depletion and degradation in developing countries. Excessive population and livestock pressure and the requirements of forest products for essential development generate pressure on forest resources like fuel-wood, fodder, timber, lumber, paper, which in turn triggers deforestation. Over-exploitation of the forest resources, as compared to its incremental and regenerative capacities, escalates the forest depletion and degradation process. India has witnessed a spurt of large projects from big dams and thermal power projects to huge mines and massive industrial complexes to meet the growing demands of a booming economy creating tremendous challenges for environment conservation. Trends in deforestation, though showing signs of decline, are still alarmingly high says UNEP (2011). Despite the considerable value of forests, deforestation is rampant. The world’s forested area is declining both in absolute terms (deforestation) and in net terms (taking account of forest planting and natural expansion), although at a slower rate than in the previous decades. On an average, 13 million hectares of tropical forests (an area the size of Greece) are disappearing annually. This is equivalent to approximately six billion tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, contributing up to one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to FAO estimates, forest industry contributed approximately US$ 468 billion or 1 percent of global gross value added to global GDP in 2006. Forests also provide employment. Although the figures range widely, studies show that more than a billion people depend on forests for incomes and employment (UNEP 2011). Also, more than 2 billion people depend on wood energy for cooking, heating and food preservation (UNDP 2000). The Green Economy Report of the UNEP (2011) hence suggested that an average annual additional investment of US$ 40 billion is required to halve global deforestation by 2030 and also increase reforestation and afforestation by 140 per cent by 2050 relative to business as usual. Additional investment is required for up-front capacity building and preparatory work, continued implementation of mechanisms that compensate for opportunity costs, reforestation and to make payments for forest protection. The UNEP thus outlines four inter-linked building blocks that can guide countries to realize contributions by forests to a green economy. Knowledge: Generating and compiling knowledge on multi-functional forests is the key for sustainable management and informed decision-making. Vision: Engaging in dialogue to build a participatory vision and agreement on forests, their management, protection and use is critical for maximizing the inter-generational benefits of forests. Enabling conditions: Adopting fiscal and economic policies help align public and private incentives for conserving, managing and using forests sustainably. Finance: Transitioning towards a green economy requires mobilizing increased public and private investments in forests. Sustainable management of forests thus ensures that benefits and values derived from forests meet present day requirements and at the same time the quantity and quality of long term development goals are maintained. “Conserve to Sustain” (N Janbemo Humtsoe) Green Foundation, Wokha. Nagaland. World Forestry Day Feature. 21st March 2012.

Forest and the Green Economy  

Economic progress and human well being are dependent on healthy forests. It is widely acknowledged that forests provide numerous benefits to...

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