Significance of forests
Gone are the days of talking only about timber and other forest product in the context of the forest. With these products as it is, another opportunity growing in the forests is carbon. Interestingly, the standing trees could deliver money without dying, and help communities invest on climate-change adaptation.
At a time when everyone is talking about the negativity of climate change, forest carbon trade could be a means to increase our depleting forest cover and earn money to adapt to the changing climate. It seems ridiculous to talk about carbon and adaptation in the context of climate change, as it is dealt with as the mitigation part, but forests could help both mitigation and adaptation if properly managed and utilized.
The reduction in emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is mitigation, but adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate.
As a least developed country with negligible carbon dioxide emissions, Nepal has not much to do on the mitigation part. But, how could the country with such deeply-rooted poverty invest inn the climate change adaptation, when even a few tablets of over-the-counter medicine is a distant object for many. When will the government prioritse climate change, and reach to the most vulnerable and needy people? Despite efforts for decades, the country has not been able guarantee even two square meals to a large number of its poor people. So, expecting the government to pour money to help people adapt to climate change would be futile.
The Ministry of Environment, which has the authority to deal on climatic issues, has no wings outside its administrative headquarter in the capital city. With a staff of about forty officials, the ministry is no more than a small NGO. The ministry itself is struggling to survive, so how could it think of helping the vulnerable people from the top of the world—Mt Everest— to the plains (Terai).
With this scenario in the backyard, it would be futile to think of the government to come up with adaptation programmes (not in papers) but in action. It is very good at papers, as the expensive letters have been printed as National Adapatation Programmes of Action (NAPA), which cost $ 1.325 million (Rs. 90 million). In bold letters, it has said that it needs $350 millions to implement the programmes in Phase I, but who is going to foot the bill? Now, within a year of the preparation of the document, the country had to face Glacier Lake Outburst Flood in Halji of Humla, which is mentioned as the least vulnerable area. The highly expensive document is already under question, and the experts have demanded its review.
In such a dire situation, we need to act to some extent to deal with the problem, and reduce the impact. But, how?
One of the best sectors to start would be forests. The country has about 40 per cent of the land area covered with forests, which could be used as a source of income through the trading of carbon. At present, a mechanism called REDD (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation) has been established, where the developed countries could buy carbon that has been stored in the forests in our nation. Worldwide, forests have an enormous impact on the global carbon cycle.
Of the 760 gigatons of carbon in the atmosphere, photosynthesis by terrestrial vegetation removes approximately 120 gigatons, almost 16 per cent of the
atmospheric pool each year, and about half of the amount (56 Gt) is returned annually by plant respiration.
Though carbon trading has been made a big issue at global negotiations, it has not materialized yet, but some donor agencies and NGOs working in the forestry sector have started piloting projects to pay for the conservation efforts of the communities. Last month, community forest users groups from three districts—Chitwan, Dolakha and Gorkha—received $100,000 as the reward for increasing the forest carbon stock.
REDD cannot a miraculous wand to solve the problem of climate change, but it can surely help the communities to earn some money, and use it for the adaptation effort. REDD, if implemented, would benefit the communities financially and ecologically, and, if not implemented, it also benefits similarly as the growing forests is simply growing money, and it could be sold at any time as per the need. In fact, the good forests would be with us, and we can use it time and again for timber and other forests products.
It would be worthy to start the adaptation works through the forests, no matter who would be ready to buy it. If the developed nations are ready to buy it, then carbon would generate fund for the communities to adapt, if not, the forest products would be a source of income and help to reduce the impacts of climate change to some extent.