The area under forests in India increased by 3.13 million ha in the 10 years to 2007, going by the results of a government survey released on Monday by Jairam Ramesh, the environment and forests minister.
That’s good news in itself and as a useful bargaining plank to be used by the Indian government at the forthcoming multilateral climate change negotiations at Copenhagen. Our forest cover neutralizes more than 11% of our greenhouse gas emissions at 1994 levels. What’s more, India has added to its stock of forests while a country such as Brazil has been cutting down its forests. One of the important and contentious issues in global climate change policy is how to structure incentives so that the countries that host large carbon sinks—such as the Amazon forests—have good reason to protect these global public goods.
The very existence of these carbon sinks allows the rest of the world to be more liberal with its pollution targets. It thus stands to reason that countries that host carbon sinks should be paid for the positive externality they offer the rest of the world.
Much the same can be said at the sub-national level as well. Some Indian states such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in the heart of India or the states of the North-East account for much of our forest cover. The new Indian government study shows that a handful of states account for most of the incremental forest cover between 1997 and 2007.
The Indian government must find ways to reward these states for the public good they provide to a growing economy: forests that absorb carbon emissions. The 13th Finance Commission chaired by Vijay Kelkar is expected to provide a revenue model for green federalism.
This newspaper had argued in a 19 August editorial for green federalism. Interstate fiscal transfers are required for reasons of equity as well as political ones. Many forested states are desperately poor and prone to militancy, be it Naxalism in the central Indian states and separatism in the North-East. High-growth states that spew carbon into the atmosphere should pay states that absorb this carbon.
Paying them for their forests could be an economic boon to these poor states, providing funds for development work.
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