Topic: General Studies 3:
- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
Loss of forest and tree cover: Conserving through Cash for Conservation System
The unprecedented breadths of the wildfires over three western states of the US, combined with their intensity, scale, speed and duration, have greatly complicated the ability to bring them under control. The 500,000-acre fire is the largest ever recorded blaze in California.
Impact of wildfires:
While natural fires have regenerative properties, large-scale anthropogenic fires have a devastating environmental impact.
- Wildfires can have long-term effects on the quality of rivers and lakes, and on storm water runoff channels. As ash-dry soil with organic matter that hasn’t rotted becomes hydrophobic and prevents the absorption of water.
- Wildfires emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that will continue to warm the planet well into the future. They damage forests that would otherwise remove CO2 from the air.
- Biodiversity gets impacted hugley.
Grim situation around the world:
- In 2019, the world lost a football field of rainforest every six seconds.
- 11.9 million hectares of tree cover was lost in 2019. This is about 1.8 gigatonnes of released carbon dioxide, or the annual emission equivalent of 400 million cars (the world’s total number of cars is estimated at 1 billion).
- Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia have lost the most tropical primary forest cover in recent years.
- The massive wildfires during the latest Australian summer resulted in the worst tree loss ever recorded in Australia, along with the loss of hundreds of millions of animals.
India has about 31 million hectares, or 11% of its area under forest cover. Over the past 20 years, India has lost 328,000 hectares of humid primary forest.
Deforestation and destruction of wetlands are among the leading causes of annual floods in heavily urbanized areas in Kerala and the cities of Mumbai and Chennai.
- Some countries like Colombia and Costa Rica have been able to slow forest loss.
- While on the one hand contributing to forest loss, China, the US, Ethiopia, and India have also planted billions of trees over the last decade.
- The Billion Tree Campaign inspired by Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai has morphed into a Trillion Tree Campaign.
Environmentalists estimate that planting a trillion trees can cancel out the deleterious effects of a decade of anthropogenic emissions.
“Cash for conservation” or Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES):
- Populations living on the periphery of forests often see an advantage in cultivating the forest land or using it for pasture, resulting in high rates of deforestation.
- One solution to the alarming loss of forest cover is to compensate marginalized populations on the periphery of forests and incentivize them not to flatten forests.
- PES was pioneered in Costa Rica, and has been successfully used in Mexico.
- The world’s longest running PES programme is the US Conservation Reserve Program, which pays out about $1.8 billion a year to the farmers to refrain from cultivating environmentally sensitive land.
- The contract requires these farmers to plant resource-conserving covers to manage soil-erosion, improve water quality, and enhance biodiversity.
- China’s Grain-for-Green scheme hands out nearly $4 billion a year to conserve sloping plots (greater than 25 degrees) that are prone to soil erosion by giving out grain and cash. One of the programme’s goals is to reduce the annual silt deposits in the Yangtze and Huang He rivers.
Word of caution:
PES systems are complicated to design and implement because they have to be very specific to micro-climatic conditions as well as to the practices of local populations.
Even as the world tries to give up fossil fuels, reduce material consumption, work more from home and turn vegetarian, afforestation and PES programmes can add significant strength to the fight against climate change.
India should set up an ambitious goal of first retaining and then increasing its forest cover.
Connecting the dots:
- Payment for ecosystem services (PES) can be an effective way to check deforestation. Comment.
- What is a wildfire? What are its impacts?