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close this bookThe Global Greenhouse Regime. Who Pays? (UNU, 1993, 382 p.)
close this folderPart III National greenhouse gas reduction cost curves
close this folder8 Integrating ecology and economy in India
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentEmissions inventory
View the documentEnergy efficiency and fuel substitution
View the documentEmissions and sequestration from forest biomass
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences

Emissions and sequestration from forest biomass

Forests, defined as woodlands with more than 10 per cent crown cover, occupy about 20 per cent of the Indian land area. This proportion may be compared with 57 per cent for heavily forested Indonesia and Malaysia. Deforestation has led to a major decline in forest area in most countries; India is no exception. About one-fifth of the forests standing today are extremely degraded. Half a million hectares or 0.8 per cent of total forest area was deforested in 1986. The primary conversion activity in India is agriculture followed by pasture and harvesting. The primary conversion activities vary by region. In the state of Karnataka, conversion to agricultural land accounts for 33 per cent, but submergence and resettlement due to power and irrigation projects account for 42 per cent, and mining for 21 per cent of the lost forest area between 1956 and 1984.

Table 8.6 shows the carbon emissions from India associated with deforestation. These are divided into three categories: inherited, prompt and delayed. Inherited emissions are caused by past forest activities and occur in the base year. Prompt emissions are those that are generated immediately as a result of a forest conversion activity. Delayed are cumulative emissions that take place over time as decomposition of biomass occurs. Releases of carbon dioxide due to changes in soil organic carbon, both from forest conversion activities and areas under harvesting and afforestation programmes, are also included here.

The committed emissions displayed in Table 8.6 have been much debated. An earlier World Resources Institute estimate placed these emissions at 140 million tons. More recent estimates from other sources place the committed emissions closer to the figure in Table 8.6.

In the section above on energy, we discussed the potential and economics of restraining emissions from that sector. Growing biomass offers an opportunity to sequester carbon which would reduce net emissions from India. What is the potential for such offsets and to what extent might it be achieved while simultaneously pursuing or accelerating currently planned socio-economic development?

The development of agro-forestry and tree plantations on previously unforested lands can provide India with options to reduce its net emissions. The biomass density and carbon accumulation of new forests can exceed those of the initial natural vegetation depending on the silvicultural practices. In addition, afforestation projects can provide gainful employment to rural peasants who formerly earned their living through activities resulting in deforestation.

India has a strong, rapidly growing afforestation programme. India's afforestation process was accelerated by the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 which aimed to stop forest clearing and degradation through a strict, centralized control of land-use rights. The afforestation activities resulted in a total of 11.5 million hectares as of 1986. Another 5.6 million more hectares were afforested between 1986 and 1989, raising the total planted area to 17.1 million hectares.

In Table 8.6, we show the carbon uptake, the annual carbon balance and the net committed emissions from India. The committed carbon uptake is almost twice as large as India's committed emissions. Over the years, the country would sequester 56 million tonnes of carbon from past afforestation activities. This figure is sufficiently large to make a dent in the emissions from the energy sector. The annual carbon balance in Table 8.6 shows a net uptake of 5 million tonnes from forestry activities. Combining this figure with emissions from energy shown in Table 8.4 would reduce emissions from modern energy and forestry to 105 million tonnes of net carbon emissions.

Table 8.6 India's forestry related carbon emissions and uptake, 7986

Carbon emissions (MtC) Carbon uptake (MtC) Annual carbon balance (MtC/year)a (9) = (1) + (2) - (5) - (6) Net committed emissions (MtC) (10) = (4) - (8)
Inheriteda (1) Prompt (2) Delayed (3) Committed (4) = (2) + (3) Inherited (5) Prompt (6) Delayed (7) Committed (8) = (6) + (7)
26 38 26 64 68.8 n.a. 120.0 120.0 -5 -56

a Inherited emissions for India were calculated using historic average deforestation rates for the past ten years.
Source: Makundi, W. Sathaye, J and Masera, 1992. Carbon Emissions and Sequestration in Forests: Case Studies from Seven Developing Countries, Volume
1: Summary, August, LBL Draft Report LBL-32119.

These figures have important implications for future carbon emissions from India. The carbon sequestration occurred and is occurring through programmes with the main goal of promoting sustainable rural socioeconomic development. Carbon sequestration is an unintended consequence of these actions. Given the potential for reducing net carbon emissions from India, the various factors that have contributed to this sequestration are worth noting. They include:

1 establishment of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980;
2 preparation of an environmental impact statement required with the beginning of the Fifth Five-Year Plan of 1975-80;
3 reduction of subsidies to forest-based industries beginning in the late 1970s;
4 increased industry-farmer links which have encouraged production of tree crops;
5 decentralized political decision making - village and district level authorities have been established in West Bengal and Karnataka, for example, that are far more motivated to ensure the prudent use of local resources;
6 growth of strong environmental movements in different parts of the country;
7 biomass fuel conservation programmes in all the states.

Strengthening these programmes would enhance carbon sequestration and accelerate rural development. As Saxena points out in a recent article, implementation of programmes will benefit some groups at the expense of others within India. Most of the programmes proposed in the article, such as welfare forestry on forest lands, social security plantation, farm forestry for the poor, etc. will benefit the rural poor and the rich at the expense of lower level officials. However, not pursuing such programmes will make everyone lose in the long run.

Favourable scenarios have projected a net carbon uptake from forests in 2011 to be 121 million tons. Interpolating between the base year, 1986, and 2011 gives a net uptake of 57 million tons in 2005. Thus, forests could offset India's modern energy related carbon emissions shown in Scenario 2, Table 8.4, by 17 per cent in 2005. India's net emissions from these two sources would be reduced to 283 million tons in 2005. This outcome would be achieved at no additional cost to those shown in Scenario 2. Further, given the exponentially higher sequestration potential for 2011, forests could offset as much as 25 per cent of the energy emissions in 2011.

Biomass use

Carbon is stored away or released when the biomass from a tree is utilized. The type of use and its duration determine the net carbon emissions. A tree burnt for the purpose of land clearing will release most of its biomass immediately. A tree providing lumber used to make buildings will store carbon away for decades. What is the best use of trees in order to sequester carbon?

Hall, Mynick and Williams point out that while sequestering carbon in forests is a relatively low-cost strategy for offsetting carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, substantially greater benefits can be obtained by displacing fossil fuel with biomass grown sustainably and transformed into useful energy using modern energy conversion technologies. Biomass substituted for coal can be as effective as carbon sequestration, per ton of biomass, in reducing carbon emissions. However, fuel substitution can be carried out indefinitely, while carbon sequestration can be effective only until the forest reaches maturity. Also, greater biomass resources can be committed to fossil fuel substitution at any given time than to carbon sequestration because biomass (such as sugarcane bagasse) can be obtained from sources other than new forests. Thus, biomass can play a much larger role in reducing greenhouse warming by displacing fossil fuel than by sequestering carbon. Moreover, biomass energy is potentially less costly than the displaced fuel energy in a wide range of circumstances, so that the net cost of displacing carbon dioxide emissions would often be negative.