Having committed a target of creating an additional carbon sink the equivalent of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes carbon dioxide by 2030, India now anticipates that it might not be able to meet that through forests alone. It is now looking at the soil of catchment areas as an additional alternative; the Ministry of Environment and Forest is working on a landscape-based catchment treatment plan to bridge the gap.
A carbon sink is a system that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
India had made the 2.5-3-billion-tonne commitment for 2030 under the Paris Agreement. “The carbon stock in India is roughly 7 billion tonnes, equivalent to 25.66 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. The average annual increment of carbon stock is 35 million tonnes which is equivalent to 128.33 million tonnes carbon dioxide,” said Siddhanta Das, director general of forests.
MoEF officials said that by 2030, the increment is expected to be the equivalent of 1.92 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which would mean a shortfall of 0.6 to 1.1 billion tonnes.
Catchment areas, the alternative that is being planned, can be natural carbon sinks that, if properly managed, can sequester substantial amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the form of organic carbon in the soil, experts say,
Das told The Indian Express that “65 per cent of carbon stock is stored in soil, and 35 per cent in trees” and a plan targeting catchment areas will prevent soil erosion, help recharge groundwater and help retain moisture in the soil that will deter forest fires.
The plan will require massive investment. Estimates drawn for the catchment area of the river Ganga by the Forest Research Institute have pegged the required investment at Rs 2,500 crore. MoEF officials said extending the plan to all catchment areas across the country might run into more than Rs 50,000 crore.
The plan will focus on treating catchment areas. “We have rain between July and October but the water that drains is taking the least resistant path and flows towards the rivers and also carries the soil with it. Through this, the river gets muddy, the catchment area becomes dry and after a few months the river also become dry,” Das said.
“Instead, we can manage catchment of water through biological and mechanical means and retain rainwater till the next monsoon, by forcing the water to flow through the soil by making it more porous or laying out a forest carpet,” Das said.
Das also suggested mechanical interventions such as check dams, underground reservoirs or cement slabs that can channelise the rainwater further into the soil. In other words, he said, the ministry plans to “prevent forest fires by longer moisture retention in the soil, minimise human-animal conflict since such a plan will increase availability of water and fodder inside forests and recharge groundwater to make farmers happy”.