India’s draft National Forest Policy 2018– The need to lay the foundation of the ecological basis for forest management

                                                                                                R D Jakati

     The revision of India’s National Forest Policy of 1988 is taking place at a time when the world is recognizing the important role of forest in climate change mitigation efforts. The Paris Agreement recognizing the importance of the integrity of the ecosystems states Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and noting the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change—“.  The Agreement, therefore, calls for revisiting our view of forests not only as a renewable resource but also as an ecosystem whose integrity needs to be maintained for the long term sustainability. Adopting a new ecological paradigm for the management of forests, therefore, is not an option but an imperative.

      The National Forest Policy of India (1988) in its preamble boldly stated the “serious depletion of forests” of the country and laid out the objectives and the strategy for the restoration of the depleted forest resources. Two major changes which the current policy made over the previous policy (of 1952) were (1) making the revenue from forests subservient to the ecological considerations, and (2) the involvement of people as important stakeholders in the management of forests. These policy changes did make some positive impact on the condition of the “seriously depleted” resource. However, the increasing population, rising socio-economic expectations and  inadequate investment in the ecological restoration have more or less offset the positive outcome of the newly adopted strategy.

            One aspect which the policy did not reflect on was the desirable change in the forest management practices which continued to be based on the traditional pattern. The European countries having observed the degradation of sites and consequent reduction in the productivity under traditional management principles are making efforts to switch over to an “ecosystem-based close to nature forestry system”.

            The following table shows the distribution of India’s forest cover in three canopy density classes. 

Forest cover Area (Sq. km) Percentage to total forest cover Percentage to total geographic area
Very dense ( 0.7 +) 98,158 13.86 2.99
Mod dense (0.4-0.7) 308,318 43.53 9.38
Open (0.1- 0.4) 301,797 42.61 9.18
Total Forest Cover 708,273   21.54
Scrub 45,979    

(Source : India’s State of Forest  Report)

It can be seen from the above table that over forty percent of the forest cover is ‘open’ with forest canopy density between 0.1 and 0.4. Most of these forests are degraded.

India’s forests are degraded not only by heavy logging, frequent fires and  uncontrolled grazing but also by our own management. The traditional forest management in the absence of adequate understanding of the complex tropical ecosystems prescribed removal of increment of wood keeping in view only one or two economically important species. Other species were removed labeling them “miscellaneous”. Such a management thus altered the composition and the structure of the natural forests. In the name of sustainable forest management the increment of the wood was removed even when the forests were depleted.

            The following table gives the area occupied by different forest types in three canopy density classes.

                                    (Source : FSI REPORT)

Major Forest Type Percentage of total forest cover Very dense (0.7 +) Mod  dense (0.4-0.7 Open (0.1-0.4)
Tropical wet
ever-green
(bio-div hot
spots)
3.4 21.77 61.16 17.06
Tropical semi-ever-green 14.55 13 49.47 37.08
Tropical
moist deci- duous
20.7 7.5 55.81 36.69
Tropical dry deciduous 40.07 4.95 48.08 47
Tropical
thorn forest
1.74 0.88 26.2 72.92
Tropical
moist forest
4.87 14.52 50.4 35.09
Tropical/Sub-tropi-cal dry ever green hill 2.97 7.57 42.37 50.06
Subtropical pine
forest
2.71 6.07 55.68 38.25
Sub alpine dry
temperate forest
2.7 10.99 50.54 38.47
Alpine scrub 0.06 39.19 31.84 28.97
Littoral and swamp forest 0.72 24.45 40.46 35.09
Plantation forest 5.32 1.51 32.69 65.8

             It can be seen that over sixty percent of the forest cover in the country belongs to tropical dry and moist deciduous categories, over 45 percent of which is open. This category, of ‘open’ in these deciduous types need special attention for restoration under afforestation/ reforestation programme. The major challenge facing the sector today is the restoration of such degraded forests at a speed  that these do not become irrecoverable. Prevention of further degradation and restoration are both equally challenging.

About 55% of the total forest area belongs to moderately dense and very dense category and thus are in a fairly good condition. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift, in real sense, to ecology-based approach to management of these forests. The ecosystem-based management seeks to manage forests in a holistic and integrated manner where not only trees but also an entire ecosystem with both its biotic and abiotic components are managed with a view to maintain its ecological integrity while ensuring flow of ecosystem goods and services on a sustainable basis for the present and future generations. Many of our good forest areas, measured on the basis of the basal area, are depleted. They appear well stocked, especially in the satellite imageries, because of the presence of relatively a large proportion of young and pole crop. The forest growing stock needs to be built up and the site conditions allowed to recuperate in case of most of country’s forests. The proportion of big trees needs to be increased to enhance the stocking and improve productivity. The preservation plots’ data/ old growth data which is available with  states can act as a guides in carrying out the study of structure, composition and the integrity of the forest types.

  At the international level efforts are being made to develop “restoration silviculture” for different forest ecosystems. Pro-Silva, a European organization of over 28 countries, is propagating “closed to nature forestry systems”. One division of International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) meets every two years to discuss “Uneven-aged Silviculture” and terms it as Silviculture of 21st century. The Convention on Biodiversity (CBD)  has been working on defining parameters for the “Red List of Ecosystems”. 

Adoption of ecosystem based close to nature forestry systems, especially for the well stocked forests and adoption of Ecosystem Approach of CBD to manage forests, can be a major component of India’s forestry sector contribution to its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC)  under the Paris Climate Agreement.

            Another important aspect, which needs consideration, is the study of inter-sectoral linkages. Developments outside forests directly influence the forest resources and their management. For example, change in the principal agriculture crop cultivation in the rural areas has significant a impact on fuel wood brought from forests. In Hoshangabad district of India, for example ‘Arhar’ (Cajanus cajan) and cotton cultivation, whose crop residues had earlier been used as fuel, were replaced by soya bean in a matter of about two decades thus increasing the pressure on forests for fuel. In many areas of wet evergreen forests in Karnataka State of India, the forest floor is swept to use leaf litter as manure for betel nut cultivation affecting adversely the productivity of forest soils. The area under betel nut has increased ten times in the last 2-3 decades in some parts of Karnataka.

             Normally, working plans are prepared for the management of forests in a forest division. But there is a need to look beyond the boundaries of a forest division to consider the developments outside. The national forest policies of the country have been aiming at increasing the forest and tree cover to 33 percent, which is possible only if the tree cultivation takes place outside state forests. Promotion of agro-forestry is necessary which inter alia will reduce the pressure on natural forests thus conserving the forest biodiversity.

            The revision of the National Forest Policy may be viewed as an opportunity to lay the foundation for a major shift towards ecologically based forest management in the country.

ForEcoIndia

ForEcoIndia aims at promoting restoration of degraded forest landscapes.

            ForEcoIndia is a campaign or movement that works to

  1. Promote ecosystem based forest management;
  2. Strive to support restoration of degraded forests with an ecosystem approach;
  3. Undertake advocacy for restoration of degraded ecosystems to bring them close to nature;
  4. Organize and manage awareness drives for promoting forest management on an ecosystem basis; and
  5. Mobilize support for this cause from all interested persons, groups and organizations.

Principles

ForEcoIndia stands for the following broad principles that should govern the forest management in India:

  1. Restore degraded forest ecosystems mimicking nature.
  2. Discourage continuation of shelter wood system of management.
  3. Discourage/ abandon totally coppice system of management.
  4. Conversion of coppice forests to high forests.
  5. Promote selection system of forest harvesting/ harvesting based on control method.
  6. Promote replacement and enrichment of degraded exotic species monoculture plantations by mixed indigenous species.
  7. Promote mixed indigenous species plantations.
  8. Soil condition should be improved by preventing extraction of dry and fallen leaves and twigs. Soil moisture conservation methods should be applied in all tropical areas.
  9. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides should not be used in public forests or plantations on forestlands.
  10. Unregulated grazing should be replaced by regulated rotational grazing in forests.
  11. Unregulated and indiscriminate collection of firewood by cutting small trees, saplings and lopping should be prevented. Management should be modified to provide regulated alternatives to the dependent communities.
  12. Promote Social Forestry/ agro forestry.
  13. Shrubs, herbs, grasses, small size trees, undergrowth should not be removed indiscriminately.
  14. Site-specific plans should be prepared for restoration of degraded ecosystems.
  15. Also, soil and moisture conservation methods should be an integral part of afforestation/reforestation operations. It will also increase biomass productivity.

REDD PLUS AND PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE AGREEMENT

IRSHAD A KHAN

      Article 5 of the Paris Agreement on Global Climate Change stipulates that all parties to the Agreement (1) should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including forests; and (2) they are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (plus) in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivising, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.

      The approaches to REDD plus have been evolved since 2005 which advanced in significant decisions taken by COP 16 at Cancun in 2010- (16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) and finally adopted as the Warsaw framework for REDD plus at COP 19. According to the agreement and decisions as referred to in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, the developing countries will implement REDD plus which will be supported by developed countries.

      However, it is a fact that the implementation of REDD plus is not legally binding if one goes by the Paris Agreement language as contained in Article 5. The words used are “should” and “are encouraged” and not “shall”. This probably was a result of ecological, political and socio-economic complexities associated with forestry sector in practically all developing countries and enormous insurmountable difficulties involved in implementation of REDD plus. Also, a consensus on REDD plus would be improbable in view of a variety of stakeholders and interests. REDD plus policies and approaches as evolved make it a voluntary and incentive-based activity.   Nevertheless, there are international expectations that developing countries should take actions to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and that they manage forests sustainably to conserve as well as enhance carbon stocks. According to 4th Report of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deforestation and forest degradation contribute to about 17 percent of green house gas (GHG) emissions. By implementing REDD plus not only the GHG emissions from forests will reduce but sequestration of GHG from atmosphere will also increase.

      Although REDD plus implementation is not legally binding and obligatory under the Paris Agreement, the developing countries that have submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) with measurable ambitions including actions to increase forest carbon sinks, reduce deforestation (forest clearance) and degradation and undertake afforestation/ reforestation, the climate change mitigation through forests becomes legally binding with or without explicitly implementing REDD plus for results-based payments. Therefore, the voluntary nature of Article 5 does not remain voluntary if a country’s NDCs include mitigation through forests. The implementation of NDCs is required to be quantifiable, measurable and verifiable through a system established and methodology adopted and rules framed by the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC serving as the meeting of the Parties of the Paris Agreement (CMA). This will require monitoring of carbon stocks in forests of a country on a regular basis and report submitted as part of the progress report of the NDCs. For example, India has committed through its NDCs, creation of additional sinks in forests for 2.5 to 3 billion tones of CO2 equivalent by 2030. This may be presumed from a baseline of 2015 as the current carbon stocks in its forests forest must sequestrate and store an additional 2.5 to 3 billion tones of Carbon.

      A country having committed its climate change mitigation and adaptation ambition (or target) through its NDCs is required to prepare a baseline or forest emissions reference level (FERL) and forest reference level (FRL) using guidance and methodology of IPCC as adopted by the COP with full transparency of methodology and report. A periodic progress report of NDCs, every five years, will be submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat for inclusion in a registry. The required information and reports submitted by a Party to the Agreement will be scrutinised by a technical review committee as well as there will be a periodic stock taking by the CMA. The provision of accountability is amply clear in the processes, methods and regulations to be developed and adopted by the CMA under the Agreement.

      A country’s NDCs submission in itself is not an instrument of incentives in form of results-based payment. It is an international obligation for which the concerned country will be accountable. Unless REDD plus is implemented to achieve forest related ambition or target, and the results-based actions are fully measurable, verifiable and reported, no financial benefits will accrue to those countries that implement forest-based mitigation.

      This brings us to decision that REDD plus is implemented in all its phases beginning with development of a national strategy or action plan as well as capacity. The three phases as decided by COP are

I. Development of national strategies or action plans, policies and measures, and capacity-building, followed by

II. the implementation of national policies and measures and national strategies or action plans that could involve

further capacity-building,

technology development and transfer, and

results-based demonstration activities, and

III. evolving into results-based actions that should be fully measured, reported and verified.

      It was also decided that while developing or implementing its national strategies and national action plans a country will address, inter alia,

  1. The drivers of deforestation and degradation;
  2. Land tenure issues;
  3. Forest governance issues;
  4. Gender considerations;
  5. Safeguards identified and agreed by COP;
  6. Full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, inter alia, indigenous people and local communities.

            A country implementing REDD plus, if it seeks or looks for results-based finance, is required to adhere to all principles and take all actions as agreed at COP 16 (Cancun) and reiterated, finalized and adopted as part of the Warsaw Framework for REDD plus at COP session in November 2014 (COP 19-Warsaw). A country is required to develop a national forest reference or sub-national level as an interim measure, emission level or forest reference level; robust and transparent national forest monitoring system for the monitoring and reporting of activities or if appropriate at subnational level; and provide information about how safeguards are being addressed. The sole basis for REDD plus success or failure is the increase or decrease in forest carbon stock compared to a base line or forest reference level. If there is an increase, incentives will flow from whatever sources and the increase has to be retained and desirably multiplied over the years or decades to qualify to continue to receive payments for results-based actions.

            REDD plus objectives can also be achieved without implementing it as an independent action for incentives but as part of ambition or target in a country’s NDCs to mitigate climate change impacts by reducing emissions from forests and sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide by expanding forest carbon sinks. Many developing countries would want to draw payments for REDD plus actions. They are in effect sequestrating emissions pushed by developed countries. They would need for this purpose support from developed countries in form of financial assistance, capacity building, technology and associated transaction costs, fully or partially.

            However, certain risks are associated with implementation of REDD plus. The first risk is that after substantial efforts and investment, the benefits may not commensurate the cost or even there may be a net negative rate of return. Some countries that are not confident about positive incentives from REDD plus (e.g. India, China, South Africa etc.) may avoid this implementation risk and may yet put in place or strengthen their forest carbon inventory monitoring system.

            The second perceived risk is from safeguard issues both environmental and social. A robust environment and social assessment (ESA) is required as an essential part of REDD plus preparedness as well as project development document. Since the stringent safeguard policies of the World Bank are being adopted, many countries may not be comfortable as mitigation plans, if any, will not only involve substantial cost but will also be cumbersome. For example, if an ESA results find that the interests of indigenous people or other forest dependent local communities are adversely affected by way of restricting access to REDD plus forest areas thereby jeopardising their livelihood opportunities or any physical displacement is involves, safeguard issues will be triggered. Safeguards are meant to ensure that REDD plus related activities do not result in any adverse environmental or social impact such as biodiversity, drastic alteration of a natural ecosystem structure and composition. Implementation of safeguards may reduce or offset financial incentives and create unnecessary responsibilities.

         The third risk is possibility of deviation from transparency framework as established under Article 13 the Paris Agreement with a view to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation. The principles and guidance relating to governance, monitoring and reporting, if compromised will deny incentives and adverse international opinion.

        The REDD plus finance for results-based incentive continues to remain elusive. The possibility of US $100 billion climate fund as discussed at the recently concluded November 2016 COP 22 at Marrakech, could not be resolved by the international communities. The World politics is changing fast so are the commitments.          

Climate Change and the Management of Forests in India

Dr. R D Jakati

Globally the forest ecosystems are threatened with modifications due to climate change. These ecosystems which have evolved over thousand years may see change in the structure and composition of flora and fauna, and quite importantly the less studied associated soil micro-flora. Some species of flora and fauna may go locally extinct or migrate to favourable climatic conditions. These ecosystems have not been static but dynamic in nature and have been adapting to the gradually changing conditions. However, they may not absorb the rapidly changing climatic conditions causing the structural and the compositional changes which are bound to reflect in the ecosystem services. These changes may not necessarily be in the interest of mankind. This situation calls for careful documentation, analysis and monitoring of various forest systems, especially with respect to their historical structure and composition, if relevant data is available. Such studies are complex in tropical forest systems because there is a large number of species on every unit of area with little knowledge of their local inter-dependence and association with the soil micro-flora.

The traditional forest management in India considered forest as a resource and harvested the same in more or less orderly manner, generally termed as scientific management. It was based on two main principles: the principle of sustained yield and that of normal forest. The principle of sustained yield in practice meant sustained supply of wood to the market for which adequate forest areas were harvested.Since the growing stock was not uniformly spread over the entire forest area and also that quality of stocking was also not uniform, appropriate adjustment factors were used and applied in the practical forest management so that the supply of timber/ wood to the market remained constant. Many mixed species’ forests, which constituted and continue to be bulk of our forests, didn’t regenerate under clear felling systems. When some did the composition changed.

Along with the above, there was another practice of regenerating forests through coppicing. Most of the trees when cut near the base produce coppice shoots. Since the root system already exists the shoots grow vigorously. The area gets covered soon. In a mixed forest some species grow more rapidly than the others. Such rapidly growing species dominate the slow-growing ones. The composition thus tends to change. If such forests are harvested, say, at relatively short intervals the site degrades and gets exhausted of the nutrients. The possibility of such happening increases in areas which are dry and generally devoid of humus. This system of management with coppice regeneration was practiced in many forest areas in central India. Teak and sal (Shorea robusta) were the preferred species; other species were removed to favour these species. Many of these forests in central India are degraded and have a composition which reflects degradation. What constituted normal forest in a mixed forest was little studied and understood.

 Itarsi Hoshangabad -Photo R D Jakati, 2015
Itarsi Hoshangabad
-Photo R D Jakati, 2015

In many areas of dry deciduous teak forests in Madhya Pradesh significantly higher, at some places profuse, regeneration of Chloroxylon swietenia is seen. This clearly indicates site degradation /nutrient deficiency. (This species is an indicator of degraded site).

These concepts of traditional forest management were borrowed from the study of forestry science based on even aged single species forests in Europe. The normal forest meant densely packed forest blocks of even age and covering all age classes in an area. The principle of progressively increasing sustained yield was a further evolution of the principle of sustained yield. This principle advocated increasing the yield from the forest by adopting appropriate management practices like improving the density of stocking and harvesting more area so that the yield from forests increased. It was believed that the forests were inexhaustible store of renewable resource (under all circumstances). By middle of the nineteenth century Europeans had discovered that forests under such practices were not sustainable in the long run and had observed degradation of sites under such management. It came to be recognized that what nature produced on a particular site as an ecosystem is the best suited and also the most productive one for the site. This gave rise to the Dauerwald system/continuous cover forestry and eventually the close to nature forestry.

India has a long tradition of over hundred years of preparation of working plans. The nature, the contents and the legality of this document have undergone metamorphic changes over, especially, last two decades. It started as a well thought written plan of systematically harvesting forests keeping in view the concept of sustained yield and normal growing stock. As the general awareness regarding multiple use forestry grew, newer technologies made available for collecting necessary data and the society in general became more aware about environmental needs, the contents of such a plan underwent lot of changes. The first common working plan code was formulated in 1891 which was revised in 2004, after about hundred years.The next revision was felt necessary soon thereafter and the revised one was adopted in 2014. The principles of sustainable forest management were adopted in Rio conference followed by the twelve principles adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2003, after Malawi conference, in view of climate change. These developments associated with better knowledge of ecosystem conservation necessitated the revision of the working plan code. At present the working plans are made by the working plan officers, they are discussed in the state forest departments and are approved by the Regional Chief Conservators of Forests of Government of India. The approval of the management plans became necessary after the directions to that effect by the Supreme Court of India, in view of forest being on the concurrent list of the Constitution of India.

As per the current working plan code, the plan is broadly divided into two parts, as in the previous one. The first part containing twelve chapters is the summery of facts on which proposals are based and the second part, which prescribes the future management, has as many chapters as the number of working circles plus one. The extra one is the chapter on general constitution of working circles and the justification of making working circles. The twelve chapters of the first part describe the area, locality factors, forests and their vulnerability, composition, past management and the effect of on forests, growth and yield, socio economic status of the people living in and out of forests and their relationship with forests etc. Each chapter on working circle gives general status, management prescriptions; demand limits which can be put on the resource considering various factors etc.

In India, learning from the past follies foresters, as a community, have become more conservation oriented and generally are in favour of careful harvesting of forests. The society in general is also not in favour of felling trees. The activism on the part of the judiciary has also played its own role in directing the management to be careful in the utilisation of forest resource. These societal changes have made forest stand structure uneven aged and at many places tending to be selection type. These conditions are thus favourable for the adoption of ‘Close to Nature Forestry system’ for the well-stocked natural forests in India. The moderately stocked forests and the under stocked forests should be restocked with preferably native species considering the degradation stage and the nutrient status of forest soils etc. Although the contents of the working plans have improved a lot, there are gaps which are necessary for the management to be the ecosystem based.

Different forest types have different species composition. Within a forest type the composition also changes with site quality to some extent. At the time of making fresh enumeration (forest inventory), which is done at the time of revision /preparation of working plan, the data of composition of different forest types by site quality may be compiled. The genetic variation of the species may also be recorded to the extent possible. From the tables of diameter distribution of different species structural and compositional studies can be carried out for reflecting on the past management and making future management prescriptions. Sukachev (1954) at the World Forestry Congress in his paper “Forest types and their significance for forest economy” said forest types should form the basis of study and classification.

In India a large number of preservation plots were established in different forest types to study the composition, structure and the growth of the forests. Various Silviculture conferences, starting with one in 1929, discussed and encouraged establishment of such preservation plots. Many such plots established were not maintained and recorded properly at a later date. Data of some preservation plots is available with some states but proper study of these has not been undertaken. The data of such preservation plots can throw light on the composition and structure of the original natural vegetation of the given forest type. And if the data of adequate number of   preservation plots is available, the natural range of variability can be studied besides throwing light on the past management deficiencies.

It is quite often stated that fire and grazing are two most important degrading locality factors. It is true. There is no doubt about them. But how far our systems of forest management have contributed to the site degradation is a difficult question to answer. Research on this aspect needs to be conducted for better management in future. Some of our good forest areas, measured on the basis of the basal area, are depleted. They appear well stocked because of the presence of relatively larger proportion of young and pole crop. The number of big trees is very small. It seems that most forests had been harvested at shorter intervals like the forests worked under systems involving concentrated regeneration felling, and /or the coppice systems. Normally, the job of working plan officer ends at calculating the increment the forest puts on and recommending removal of equal to or less than the gross increment accrued. However, it may be remembered that even the depleted forests put on some increment. It is incorrect to recommend removal of increment if the forest is depleted. In fact the forest growing stock needs to be built up and the site conditions allowed to recuperate in case of depleted forests. Such decision can be taken if the working plan officer knows the level of stocking. And that is where the problem starts. In case of mixed forests there are no yield tables to compare the existing stocking and the level of depletion. Generally knowing that the forest is depleted and so recommending removal only part of increment, intuitively, is incorrect and unscientific. Here comes in the role of preservation plots data and the study of structure and composition of the forest under management which is the heart of ecosystem based forest management. The analysis of the crop which is generally written in the chapter on the forests or in the chapter on the statistics of growth and yield need to incorporate such studies on which management prescriptions can be based

The ecosystem approach to forest management is widely recommended to be adopted for the obvious reasons of its focus on the sustainability of the system considering the structure, composition and the functioning to be the heart and soul of forest management associated with decentralization of authority of management to the lowest possible level, and adopting the inter sectoral linkages. In India, laws regulating forests have been amended from time to time to consider the interest of forests and wildlife but inter-sectoral dialogue with agricultural sector or transport sector, that have fragmented the important biodiversity habitats, have not been initiated.

-Photo R D Jakati, 2015
-Photo R D Jakati, 2015

Natcom II report of Government of India, 2012, predicts top dying in teak and Sal forests. This, the report says, will happen due to nutrient deficiency despite favourable conditions for higher primary productivity under changing climate.

In so far as the adaptation to climate change in forest management is concerned the broad principles adopted are: 1) Increase tree species richness. Degradation of forests generally results in decrease in species diversity. Past management have generally favoured economically important species at the cost of others. 2) Increase structural diversity using uneven aged silvicultural system. 3) Maintain and increase genetic variation within tree species through tending and thinning practices or through enrichment planting of tolerant provenances of native species.   4) Increase resistance of individual trees to biotic and abiotic stress, for example, vigorously growing dominant and co-dominant tress are resistant to biotic stress and individuals with well developed big crowns are resistant to wind damage.

Normally working plans in India are written for the management of forests of a division. But there is a need to look beyond the boundaries of forests. This is because of the following reasons.1) Developments outside forest influence the forest resource condition. 2) National Forest Policy aims at increasing forest and tree cover to 33% which is possible if tree cultivation takes place outside forest boundary. It is also known that if agroforestry is promoted, the pressure on natural forests reduces. The promotion of agroforestry as a tool to conserve forest resource, therefore, should find place in the working plans. 3) Under the direction of the Supreme Court licensing of saw mills limited to the wood production capacity of the division / district is made mandatory. These saw mills / wood based industries may or may not use wood obtained from forests. It is, therefore, necessary to undertake survey of wood resource outside forest boundaries in the division/ district to monitor the pressure on forests. In view of this it is necessary that working plans may be written for the geographical area of the forest division and be called the natural resource management plan.

Dr. R D Jakati

VULNERABILITY OF FOREST ECOSYSTEMS

Irshad Khan

According to the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report land use change and cover (LUCC) is both a cause and consequence of climate change and constitutes a major driver of changes in a natural ecosystem and biodiversity. The major ongoing changes in subtropical and tropical regions are clearance of forests and woodlands for conversion to agriculture, pasture and commercial cash crops (such as soy, palm oil and rubber). These changes have been causing green house gas (GHG) emissions and their increased concentrations in the atmosphere. The green vegetation is both a source and sink of GHGs. Deforestation for many people in tropical countries creates economic opportunities that is encouraged by growing demand for food products and also creates export potential.

Forests help mitigate climate change impact through removal of large quantities of carbon from the atmosphere, through absorption or reflection of solar radiation (albedo) the production of aerosols that form clouds and also some cooling effect through evapotranspiration.

The IPCC fifth assessment report (AR5) claims with high confidence that the global forests currently are net sink. The intake of carbon by well-stocked and regenerating forests was counterbalanced by release of GHG due to land use change, deforestation and forest degradation between 2000 and 2007 resulting in a net balance of 1.1± 0.8GtCyr-1. However, there are also recent scientific findings that point out that the forest carbon sink is gradually becoming weaker as a number of complex drivers are causing deforestation and forest degradation.

Interestingly, the impact of climate change on temperate forests is that there is an increase in growth rates of trees and corresponding carbon stocks. This is attributed to increased length of growing season, atmospheric CO2 concentration, nitrogen deposition, and forest management involving regeneration of area heavily harvested in the past. On the contrary the impact of climate change on tropical forests is still not very clear with degree of certainty and there are conflicting views. There is no clarity regarding the rates of photosynthesis due to increased CO2 concentrations, erratic patterns of precipitation, frequency of drought, forest fires and pests and pathogen epidemics. Climate models have not been able to provide reasonable conclusions. However, there is agreement that many tree species in moist tropical forests are sensitive to drought and may face migration and mortality. There is also agreement that forest fire frequency and severity is also increasing.

Dry tropical forests have characteristics that develop under seasonal rainfall regime. Monsoon rains occur only in a certain part of the year for 2-3 months and these forests face long periods of heat and drought. There is likelihood that significant parts of these forests are going to be under severe climate change stress due to over exposure to high temperatures and lower rainfall. The productivity of these forests is likely to decrease due to climate change and associated increased risk of fires, pest and pathogen attacks and other drivers.

There are evidences that plantation forests created by afforestation and reforestation are showing increased growth rates and productivity due to increased CO2 the atmosphere. However, the effect of increased fire frequency and intensity, drought, pathogen, and storms have not been taken into account that will affect or offset the increased productivity. The plantation forests are also vulnerable due to their even aged and single species composition that makes them less resilient. It is believed by scientists that uneven aged and mixed species tree plantations are better equipped to face climate change stress, are more resilient and have better chance of surviving.

It is well recognized that earth’s forest ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change impacts; the only question remains is the severity in different regions. Certain changes are being observed in forest ecosystems and are being attributed to rising global temperature and changed precipitation patterns. On the other hand, there are indications that the productivity of boreal forests is increasing due to increased temperature. There is likelihood that the climate change will lead to species migration, tree mortality, early tree flowering and seed production, early leave fall among deciduous species, pest and pathogen epidemic, droughts, absence of natural regeneration as well as loss of biodiversity and even species extinction. Changes are likely to increase both forest fire frequency and intensity.

Some forests in temperate regions may expand northward and in some tropical regions forest cover and area may reduce. Unsustainable land use and non-availability of water in many tropical regions may result in forest species die back. There are observations in south Asia that Tectona grandis (teak) and Shorea robusta, two valuable timber species, are showing top dying phenomenon and it is expanding to large areas. Although scientific research and data are lacking, the changes are closely associated with climate change.

The adverse impact on forest health and productivity will reduce availability of ecosystem services and goods from forests that will adversely affect local communities that depend on forests for sustenance and livelihood in the tropical countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. These countries are likely to suffer the worst impact that may be difficult to visualize today.

It is a matter of concern that there appears to be no preparedness to face the climate challenges. The approach is one of watching passively and even a feeling of skepticism about the scientific forecast as emerges from climate change models. The adaptation strategies for forest ecosystems are lacking.cropped-IMG_2762.jpg

There is also a sense of lack of clarity as to what exactly would be the impacts, and what would be the intensity and which species and ecosystems will be more vulnerable than the others. It remains difficult to make exact or tenable forecasts on these issues. In view of the complexities of the natural ecosystems, modeling for scenario forecasting has its own limitations. Many people tend to argue that the best course is watch and observe the changes taking place and at what speed as well as resilience of these systems. The predictions point out that the impacts will be highly conspicuous and even irreversible in the second half of this century.

Human species will survive climate change?

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Irshad Khan

Catastrophic climate impacts threatening survival of human race are inevitable if business as usual continues resulting in ever increasing green house gas (GHG) emissions intensity and addition of GHG concentration to the earth’s atmosphere. However, if actions are taken by all members of the international community, both developed and developing countries aiming at reducing emissions of GHG and sincere efforts are made to reduce GHG concentration in the atmosphere, the future survival of human as well as other animal and plant species will be assured.

It is evident from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (2016) that the global community has arrived at a consensus that that our planet’s average atmospheric temperature increase should be limited to 2 degree C from pre-industrial revolution temperature by 2050. Actions to mitigate climate change are found expression in the intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) submitted to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by most countries have done it and the other are in the process preparing and submission.

It is a well recognised fact that GHG emissions have not peaked as yet and many developing countries and emerging economies are increasing their emission intensity as well as per capita emissions with the justification that they are at a development stage when they are compelled to use increasing energy from fossil fuels to make progress and reduce poverty in their respective countries. They also assert, from time to time, the principle of equity and climate justice along with that of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), though these principles have been diluted in recent international climate change negotiations. For example, both China and India (China being the highest emitter) intend their emissions peaking around 2030. Similar is case with countries like Brazil, Russia and South Africa. Simultaneously these countries are also taking steps to reduce dependence on fossil fuel based energy and increase share of renewable energy gradually.

The Paris Agreement has given hope to our society. It is a scientific fact that the strongest instinct that all animals have is “survival”. They fight back attacks, resist threats and use all their energies both physical and mental to save their lives. A question arises whether human species has come to possess that collective consciousness and instinct today? Historically, it did not and this is one species that has been killing and destroying its own kind. The most primitive instinct of man has been to create security by killing others perceived as threat. The ancient tribal battles, invasions, occupation of other countries and land, extermination of villages and towns by invading and conquering armies, expansion of territories, colonisation other countries and exploitation of fellow human beings-have characterised human attitude and behaviour.  This trait appears to be deep rooted in our unconscious and subconscious mind and human egoistic approach is reflected in our social, economic and political system.

One striking difference in case of climate change appears to be that it is challenging one and all members of human community. The GHG emissions diffuse throughout earth’s atmosphere quickly irrespective of where the source is. Even the most powerful economies have no power to prevent the emissions from traveling.

Should collective risk and threats raise level of human consciousness to be ready to face climate change disasters or even to reverse these? Or will collective catastrophe and  miseries provide solace in accepting as a day of doom for all.

There is a hope in the wisdom of mankind that they will face this challenge collectively, unite to take remedial measures, change their life styles, mitigate impacts and mobilise resources and organise adaptation to climate change.  This and this alone will ensure survival of human species beyond 2050 and 2100 AD.