India’s government is debating a proposal to spend over $6 billion USD (Rs41,000 crore) to rejuvenate and expand the nation’s forests.
Trees are incredibly beneficial to an ecosystem, and can be a boon for a community or even a nation. Trees can combat climate change by sucking in carbon dioxide, trees clean the air (by some estimates 1 tree can provide enough clean air for 4 people.) They conserve water, and create entire vibrant ecosystems. Whether in large groups (you know “forests”) or used strategically in urban environments, trees are a powerful tool in creating sustainable communities. India has seen its' forests, and overall “green cover” drastically reduced in the last few decades as development has outweighed conservation efforts.
The lower house of India’s national parliament passed the “Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015” which aims to increase the nation’s forest cover from the current 21.34% to 33% of the total land.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the bill will give a “tremendous push in [India’s] afforestation movement. Our forest cover will dramatically increase and it will result in achieving our target 33 per cent of tree cover and most importantly 2.5 billion tons of carbon sink as we have indicated in our INDCs."
The bill is in large part funded by unlocking billions of dollars earmarked for forest lands but has been unused for many years.
"This was the historic because for the last 12 years the funds meant for afforestation were deposited in only banks and were not used on the ground. Now this bill has facilitated that the money will be given to the states for using it on afforestation with better evaluation and monitoring by using technology," Javadekar added.
Of course the bill and the effort to reforest the nation has its skeptics.
An earth scientist and management trustee at the NGO Environs Trust, Sreedhar Ramamurthi told Quartz he had “reservations” about the bill. “There should be a mechanism to monitor that the funds are used correctly. Many a times, forest officials themselves burn down forests when they are pressed for target completion and complain that their work was lost in fires.”
The bill is also raising questions about where the government intends to get the over 10% of additional land to set aside for reforestation. In the past, forests have been cut down to clear the way for development. Pushing people off of this land to expand (or re-expand) forests may be difficult and unpopular.
Despite the concerns around the bill a nation committing this type of economic investment to reforestation is a good sign for the global climate. Emerging nations like India and China are playing a bigger role in generating greenhouse gasses, any attempt to reverse that trend and clean the world’s air will help everyone on the planet.
The upper house of India’s national Parliament will consider the bill in the near future. Hopefully India can play a leadership role in a global green revolution. Planting trees seems like a logical place to start.