Carbon credits have not helped curb emissions

| Updated on September 09, 2019

A multilateral body just for funding green initiatives, especially afforestation, must be set up

In a welcome move, India has committed to restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, in the process creating “a carbon sink of close to three billion metric tonnes through additional tree cover”, in the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His commitment at the UN Convention to Combat Climate Change reflects a growing realisation that climate-change-induced extreme weather events have become alarmingly commonplace. The financial and human costs of these calamities can no longer be relegated to the margins of policymaking. While the policy push to solar power and the efforts to shift to EVs must count as notable steps to reduce carbon emissions, afforestation is what matters most. This is because, as a recent report released by the Centre for Science and Environment points out, soil degradation accounts for more emissions than any other activity since the ‘soil stores three times the amount of carbon as the atmosphere’. Carbon sequestration, or the creation of carbon sinks, therefore must assume centrestage. An intensive afforestation programme requires adoption of the right forestry practices, and above all, a good amount of money.

It is here that ‘carbon credit markets’ have failed to generate funds for the developing world. When the world moved from a regime of mandatory commitments on the part of the industrialised countries under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to voluntary ones under the 2015 Paris accord, it also impacted the shift towards clean development engineered by ‘carbon credits’ or carbon emission reduction certificates. These certificates were bought by EU countries for funding clean projects in the developing world, while also working as a sort of fine for not meeting emission targets. But since these certificates were often underpriced and the wrong projects identified, neither party met their obligations. After the Paris pact, targets became nebulous, knocking the bottom out of the carbon credits market. Not surprisingly, as the UNEP report on ‘emissions gap’ released last November observes, global emissions peaked in 2017 after three years of stagnation. There is little time to be lost in fixing an alternative financial mechanism. Global funding for afforestation — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation plus conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+) — has failed due to faulty carbon pricing and the poor negotiating rights of traditional communities. A multilateral body just for funding green initiatives must be set up.

But the best recourse is to leverage a corpus set up under the initiative of the Supreme Court in 2002 — the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority. Under this, projects in forest areas have to compensate for the forest cover destroyed by depositing a value in the CAMPA corpus, which will be used for forestry programmes. CAMPA, managed well by an autonomous authority, should put a price on dirty development. That’s the best way forward.

Published on September 09, 2019

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