India Inc couldn’t-care-less attitude about forests worrying, says report

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on January 27, 2020

The lush greenery along the approach road to Araku Valley passing along the Galikonda Hill range in Visakhapatnam district. (file photo)

By not reporting risks and opportunities, Indian companies may have to contend with adverse effects of deforestation



Does India Inc care about the country’s forests? A recent ‘CDP India Annual Report 2019’ indicates it doesn’t.

No Indian company responded to CDP’s (Carbon Disclosure Project) questionnaire on forests, though many answered similar questionnaires on other issues such as renewable energy use and water.

The questions on forests were aimed at ascertaining whether the companies measured the impact of their businesses on forests.

“In 2019, 543 companies from 46 countries responded to CDP’s forests’ questionnaire. Starkly, no India company did so,” the report says. In comparison, 77 companies from other major emerging markets — Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa — responded.

A missed opportunity

“This can indicate a missed opportunity for Indian companies,” CDP India report says. CDP India is the Indian arm of CDP, an international not-for-profit climate action organisation that seeks to promote full reporting of carbon-related issues by companies.

By not measuring and reporting their forests-related risks and opportunities, Indian companies might be at a competitive disadvantage in the global market and may have to contend with adverse effects of deforestation and climate change on their supply chains in the long run, the report notes.

One example is palm oil; the area of cultivation of the commodity is increasing, thanks to deforestation. “As the largest global buyer of palm oil, India is exposed to business risks associated with deforestation. On the other hand, India wields significant influence on the palm oil sector and can plan an important role in accelerating existing trends and scaling sustainable solutions.”

Deforestation hastens global warming which does not bode well for the entire planet. Rainforests of the size of 30 football fields are lost every minute. Forty per cent of deforestation is driven by production and trade of four commodities — cattle, palm oil, timber and soy.

CDP wants Corporate India to join its ‘Forest program’, “report meaningful data to track progress and reap the opportunities associated with securing sustainably-produced commodities in the long term.”

Area under forest cover

In December 2019, the Centre brought out the ‘India State of Forests Report’, which it publishes once in every two years. The report shows that 24.56 per cent of the geographical area of the country is under forest or tree cover — that is 712,249 sq km of forest cover and 95,027 sq km of tree cover. The increase was 3,976 sq km (0.56 per cent) and 1,212 sq km (1.29 per cent), respectively, from the previous assessment of 2017, adding 5,188 sq km (0.65 per cent) to India’s forests in two years.

Notably, the area under ‘very dense forests’ increased 19 per cent this decade, from 83,471 sq km in 2011 to 99,278 sq km in 2019.

Disheartening data

Against this heartening data are some sad facts. For instance, India counts plantations and other commercial activities as ‘forests’, which may not mean much for climate action. Also, if 10 per cent of a hectare of land has tree cover, the entire hectare is counted as forest.

Furthermore, the broad statistics masks regional problems. For instance, authors Radhika Khosla and Ankit Bharadwaj note in their chapter on ‘Urban India and Climate Change’ in the recent book India in a warming world: integrating climate change and development, that certain elevation bands in the Himalayan forests are “browning” because of global warming. “Higher elevation trees, such as the Himalayan birch, which survive on water from snow melt may be most vulnerable to the warming trend,” they say.

Published on January 27, 2020

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