Why Did India Stay Away From Deforestation Declaration, Methane Pledge?

THE two-week long COP 26 summit at Glasgow has come to an end. A commitment to phase out coal that was included in earlier negotiation drafts led to a dramatic finish as India and China opposed it. Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister of India Bhupender Yadav raised concerns about how developing countries could promise to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when they still have to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication. In the end, countries agreed to "phase down" rather than "phase out" coal, amid expressions of disappointment from several countries. India born British Minister Alok Sharma who was the COP26 President said he was, "deeply sorry" for how events had unfolded.

"China and India will have to explain themselves and what they did to the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world", said Alok Sharma. He, however, called the deal historic and said it keeps 1.5 degree Celsius  within reach.

Earlier drafts of the agreement contained a commitment to phase out unabated coal that refers to coal burned without carbon capture and storage technology. The experts say that this technology brings down the emissions significantly.

Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) 

To reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere, scientists have come out with a technology called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The basic idea of CCS – capturing CO2 and preventing it from being released into the atmosphere was first suggested in 1977 using existing technology in new ways. CO2 capture technology has been used since the 1920s for separating CO2 sometimes found in natural gas reservoirs from the saleable methane gas. In the early 1970s, some CO2 captured in this way from a gas processing facility in Texas (USA), was piped to a nearby oil field and injected to boost oil recovery. This process, known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) has proven very successful and millions of tonnes of CO2 – both from natural accumulations of CO2 in underground rocks and captured from industrial facilities are now piped to and injected into oil fields in the USA and elsewhere every year. By 2012, there were 5 large scale CCS projects in operation around the world.

CCS is a way of reducing carbon emissions, which could be key to helping to tackle global warming. It’s a three-step process, involving: capturing the carbon dioxide produced by power generation or industrial activity, such as steel or cement making; transporting it; and then storing it deep underground. CCS involves the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial processes, such as steel and cement production, or from the burning of fossil fuels in power generation. This carbon is then transported from where it was produced, via ship or in a pipeline, and stored deep underground in geological formations.

Modi’s pledge at COP 26?

When the COP 26 summit began at Glasgow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to cut emissions to net zero by 2070 and  reduce carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030. PM Modi also pledged to raise the share of renewables in the energy mix to 50%, among others. The progressive announcements of Modi that were welcomed then, now stand in stark contrast to India's last-minute intervention to water down the use of coal and bypassing the global methane pledge which was launched during COP 26 summit. Around 90 nations signed the methane pledge that was initiated by the US and European Union (EU). As methane is the second most greenhouse gas found in abundance in our atmosphere after CO2, the pledge is aimed at bringing down methane emissions down to a significant level. The announcement on methane pledge was made in September this year by the US and European Union for reducing global methane emissions by 30 % from 2020 levels by the year 2030. Pertinently methane gas emissions are  responsible for half of the 1 degree Celsius net rise in global temperature since pre industrial era.

India stays away from Forest pledge 

India has not only shown its reluctance to sign the pledge on methane reduction but also chose to stay away from the forest & land use pledge as well. Considered to be one of the 10 most forest-rich countries of the world, India stayed away from this agreement as it was not happy with the effort to link infrastructure development and allied activities with the conservation of forests in the prepared text.  On the other hand, more than 100 world leaders showed their commitment to save the world’s forests.

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use was an ambitious declaration initiated by the United Kingdom to “halt deforestation” and land degradation by 2030. India’s representative is said to have objected  to “trade” being interlinked to climate change and forest issues in the agreement.

The declaration on forests and land use has over 105 signatories including the UK, US, Russia and China. In addition to India, Argentina, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa are the only G20 countries that did not sign this declaration. On one hand, India is targeting to bring down its projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030, the forests spread across North to South and East to West of the country could help achieve this goal. Unfortunately , India's forests appear to be receding as the tree cover has declined by 5% in the last decade between 2001 and 2020 as per the official figures.

We have already lost 66,000 hectares or 0.65% of humid primary forests--defined as mature, natural, humid tropical forest cover that has not been completely cleared and regrown in recent history--between 2017 and 2019 (source Global Forests Watch dashboard, World Resources Institute).

In addition to it, between 2001 and 2020, India lost 1.93 million hectares of tree cover (defined as all vegetation taller than 5 metres in height as of 2000), a 5% decline. This is about 14 times the size of Delhi. In 2020 itself, India lost 132,000 hectares of natural forests, as per the dashboard.

However, official figures show an increase in India's forest and tree cover. The Forest Survey 2019 estimated a 5,188 sq km or 0.65% increase in India's forest and tree cover by geographical area between 2017 and 2019. These figures have been contested by activists and environmental experts.

Amendments in Forest Conservation Act 1980 

With an aim of what the Modi Govt calls “liberalising”  forest laws by facilitating private plantations for harvesting and exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas deep beneath forest land by drilling holes from outside the forest areas, it seems BJP Govt at centre is making every effort towards providing ‘ease of doing business’ to its capitalist cronies. The proposed amendments in the Forest Conservation Act 1980 (FCA) is the latest move to destroy natural resources only to pave a way for helping capitalists and multinational companies.  The proposed amendments say that this step is aimed at providing exemptions to businesses under the garb of ‘development’. Land that was acquired by the Railways and the Road ministries before 1980, but on which forests came up, will no longer be considered forests.

Highlights of the proposed amendments are:

The forest land for strategic and security projects of national importance should be exempted from the need to obtain prior approval from the Central government. Doing this will allow states to permit diversion of forest land for strategic and security projects that are to be completed in a given time frame.

To facilitate Oil and Natural Gas Extraction. The new technologies such as Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) are to be explored for extraction of oil and natural gas found deep beneath the forest land by drilling holes from outside the forest areas.

Conclusion 

At a time when India could have shown more commitments towards reducing carbon emissions and global warming , it is evident that the Govt has some other priorities in spite of the fact that we are at the top of the world pollution chart.  A 2020 report by Swiss organisation IQAir found that 22 of the world's 30 most polluted cities were in India, with Delhi ranked the most polluted capital. On the one hand, PM is making commitments of generating 500 Giga Watts of non-fossil fuel energy but on the other hand stays away from forest/ land use declaration and the methane pledge.


This article is part two of the previously published article “On COP26: Watching Glasgow from Kashmir.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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