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How carbon sinks can help India become a ‘net zero’ country

An increase in India’s green cover can help meet its Paris Agreement commitments and reduce toxic emissions in the atmosphere.

It is an understatement to say that action on climate change needs to be accelerated. We are living through a global pandemic, and natural disasters across the world have become increasingly frequent. And yet, the collective focus of humanity remains fragmented over a common strategy to make the planet healthier. 

In 2019 though, at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, 77 countries committed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Now the number of countries has reached 100. But can every country, with its own unique set of problems, meet this target?

Can India, for instance, really become a ‘net zero’ nation in the absence of a roadmap to reduce the ever increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the environment?

Forests and large-scale tree plantation zones absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That is why they are important in the fight against climate crisis, with recent research showing that a forest or a big grove of trees can help sequester twice as much CO2 as they emit. This is how they serve as a ‘carbon sink’. 

Planting more trees, hence, can help India’s Paris Agreement commitment to sequester 2.5-3 billion tonnes of additional carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030.

Expansion of carbon sinks has been miniscule, but an increase in India’s green cover could help the country meet its target and also reduce toxic emissions in the atmosphere.

Planting trees indiscriminately, however, is not the solution, say experts. Any plantation activity has to first take into account the native vegetation, biodiversity, local populations and the indigenous people of the region.

“Can we aspire to meet our Paris Agreement commitment by 2030? Nothing is impossible but urbanisation and massive deforestation has cost us major parts of our green cover,” Supriya Patil, an environmentalist with Grow-Trees.com, said.

She added:

We need to collectively work towards enhancing biodiversity and maintaining ecological balance. We must plant more trees because as natural carbon sinks, they can help compensate for the greenhouse effect through the sequestration of atmospheric CO2. We need to do much more, because the current rate of afforestation in India is lower than what is needed.

One example of how trees can make a short- and long-term difference to the environment is Grow-Tree.com’s case study from Jamshedpur, where it planted over 20,000 trees near an urban landscape to address the issues of prolonged pollution and poor air quality index (AQI).  The planting helped increase not only the forest cover for nearly 10 acres land, but also improved the habitat for indigenous wildlife species.

The trees will also sequester about 400,000 kilograms of atmospheric CO2 annually upon maturity. 

She added that planting 75,000 trees in the city will help increase forest cover for nearly 25 hectares land, improve the overall air quality and sequester about 1.5 million kg of atmospheric CO2 annually upon maturity.

Maharashtra is another example of how urban sprawls pay the price for ecological imbalance. There has been an increase in urban ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant, across 10 Maharashtra cities, according to newspaper reports. 

The cities have also seen massive deforestation activities that are now affecting weather regulations.

Supriya said:

“A tree plantation drive in Thane district aims to restore the lost forests and rebuild healthy biodiversity for the region. The planting of 60,000 trees near the urban landscape of Mumbai will also help increase forest cover for nearly 50 acres of land and help sequester approximately 1.2 million kg of atmospheric CO2 annually upon maturity.” 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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