Weakened forests, biodiversity law will impact India’s environment in 2023

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Mumbai: 2023 was the year that India weakened protection around forests by amending the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, and also weakened protection around biodiversity through the Biodiversity (Amendment) Act.

In a separate move, the government also introduced two new programs that are said to benefit India’s environment and help it meet one of its climate goals, although there were questions and protests over this.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi co-hosted a high-level event on the Green Credit Program at the recently held World Climate Conference COP28 in Dubai and called on all countries to join the international version of the India program.

But they are also debatable. While the government has indeed introduced a carbon credit trading system and introduced green credits for activities deemed to be environmentally beneficial, these two programs suffer from a lack of clarity and methodology, as well as robust verification standards. has faced criticism from experts as to whether or not.

Weakening of forest laws threatens to open large areas of forests to non-forest uses, while weakening of biodiversity laws threatens to limit access and benefits to custodians of India’s traditional knowledge of biodiversity. You may be locked out of sharing.

As the end of the year approaches, let’s take a look at what India’s environmental policy looks like in 2023.

vast forests lose protection

The Indian government has made landmark changes to the laws governing forests. Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act this year. The bill was passed by Parliament during the monsoon period.

action Modified The erstwhile Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 is now applicable only to certain types of land. These include land notified as forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, or land recorded in government records after the Act came into force in 1980.

However, the amended law does not apply to land converted to non-forest uses before December 12, 1996. Land within 100 km of India’s borders will also be exempted from the scope of the law because it is necessary for national security. Projects, small roadside facilities, public roads leading to residences, etc.

This amendment excludes land that was recorded as forest but not notified as forest before October 25, 1980, and land that was converted from forest use to non-forest use before December 12, 1996.

The exemption affects at least 197,159 square kilometers (sq km) of forest. This is equivalent to three times the area of ​​forest. Sri Lanka (65,610 square kilometers) — as stated in india spending analysis From August 2023. This forest is–Almost 28% of India’s forest area–Located outside the Recorded Forest Area (RFA) and would lose protection under the new amendments.

The enactment of the new law sparked protests by experts, environmentalists and activists who argued that the proposed amendment would not only harm the environment but also violate the rights granted to forest-dwelling tribes. Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA).

FRA has asked local communities to grant permission for conversion of forest land through gram sabhas. Many of the proposed amendments will adversely impact Scheduled Tribes and “other traditional forest dwellers.” The reason is that if the land is outside the ambit of the FCA, the requirement to obtain consent from the gram sabha for the conversion of the land is effectively eliminated.

Who benefits from biodiversity?

The Ministry of the Environment announced in December 2021, had been introduced The Biodiversity (Amendment) Bill amending the Biodiversity Act 2002. tried to achieve next:

I. By encouraging the cultivation of medicinal plants, we reduce the burden on wild medicinal plants.

ii. Encourage the Indian healthcare system;

iii. Facilitate faster research, patent application processes and transfer of research results while leveraging the biological resources available in India.

iv. Decriminalize certain provisions

v. Introduce further foreign investment in a range of biological resources, including research, patents and commercial exploitation, without compromising national interests.

invoice are also exempted Users of codified traditional knowledge and AYUSH practitioners by sharing benefits with local communities.it was passed it In the Lok Sabha on July 25 and in the Rajya Sabha on August 1.

However, there are concerns that the new law could lead to unchecked commercialization of users of codified traditional knowledge and Ayush practitioners. there is no need Sharing the benefits arising from the use of biological resources with local communities who are the traditional holders of this knowledge.

Previously, violations were punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine, or both.action decriminalize Violations carry a fine ranging from Rs 100,000 to Rs 5 million, and if the violation continues, an additional fine of up to Rs 1 million may be imposed. The law adds that a judge will conduct an investigation and determine the fine.

Experts argue that the new law does not make clear what types of violations will be subject to penalties. In addition, the law changed the authority to adjudicate from judges to public servants, and punishment decisions were made based on hearings rather than judgments. ” said the legislative research institute PRS. notes on bill.

Congress leader and former environment minister Jairam Ramesh also made some of these points. After this bill was passed in Rajya Sabha; he mentioned it We are living in the most retrograde era, where “ease of doing business” is prioritized over “protection, preservation, and restoration.”

Carbon emissions, trading and compensation

India’s total domestic greenhouse gas emissions Increased has Compared to 2016, it increased by 4.56% and compared to 1994, it increased by 115.42%.

India plans to develop Indian Carbon Market (ICM) There, a national framework will be established to decarbonize India’s economy by putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions. transaction of carbon credit certificates.

“A well-designed competitive carbon market mechanism will enable a growing economy like India to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at minimal cost at both the entity and sector-wide levels. It will accelerate the adoption of clean technologies in the economy.” Government believe.

ICM aims to accelerate India’s climate change goal of reducing the economy’s emissions intensity by 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels by accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy. Are expected.

The notification was carbon credit trading system In June 2023, the Ministry of Power will identify the sectors and obligated entities (companies) covered by the compliance mechanism. They will be given emissions reduction targets. If a company meets and exceeds these targets, it will be issued with carbon credit certificates that can be traded on the aforementioned carbon markets. Obligated entities that fail to meet their reduction targets must meet the shortfall by purchasing similar items.

These may be compliance credits, but India already participates in one of the world’s largest voluntary carbon credit markets (private markets with no oversight). One-fifth of the voluntary credits issued worldwide originate from Indian projects. But globally, the voluntary carbon credit model has been controversial, with incidents of fraud and greenwashing emerging as noted in an October 2023 report by the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment. It stands out. report.

“Carbon offsets are here to stay, but India’s compliant carbon market and carbon trading will face some initial challenges,” said Trishanth Dev, report author and program director at CSE. ” he said. How do you verify projects that claim to have reduced emissions intensity? In the case of voluntary markets, the role of third-party verifiers is already being questioned. Verification is in some sense ineffective. ”

‘Additionality’ (meaning that this effort is unique and that the emissions reductions would not have occurred without it), as companies may claim credit for what the community is already doing. ) will be another challenge, Dev said.

for something environmentally friendly

India has a similar policy with its carbon credit trading program. green credit program It was established earlier this year to encourage water conservation and tree planting.program specific 8 specific activitiesThese include afforestation, water conservation, sustainable agriculture, waste management, air pollution reduction, mangrove protection and restoration, Ecomark (a government scheme to identify environmentally friendly products), sustainable Includes buildings and infrastructure. Each activity is subject to predefined thresholds and benchmarks.

Put simply, GCP Encourages individuals, industry and local organizations to engage in activities that benefit the environment and generate green credits. Distinctive units are assigned to specific environmental activities and can be traded on national market platforms.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, Co-host High-level event on the COP-28 Green Credit Program to be held in Dubai on December 1st. They called on all countries to join this initiative.

During the event period, web platformIt has also been launched, which serves as a repository of policies and best practices to encourage environmentally friendly behavior. The initiative aims to foster global cooperation in the planning, implementation and monitoring of environmentally beneficial initiatives through programs and mechanisms such as green credits. India is currently the only country registered on the web platform.

CSE developers say they have doubts about the green credit program, but would like to wait for more information about the green credit program to be released to understand its potential.

“For example, how do you develop a methodology to compare these very different environmental activities?” the developer asked. “How do you measure the impact? Who do you sell the green credits to? There is so little documentation on GCP at the moment that it’s hard to know what will happen.”

(IndiaSpend intern Esha Bahal contributed to this report.)

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