Navigating challenges in India's Green Credit Programme

(Image: Johannes Plenio/Stocksnap/CC0 1.0 DEED)
(Image: Johannes Plenio/Stocksnap/CC0 1.0 DEED)
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Green Credit Programme: Balancing innovation and environmental impact

The finalised methodology for generating green credits through tree planting diverges notably from its draft version, which provided more operational details. Released by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MOEFCC) on February 22, it outlines a framework for the Green Credit Programme, facilitating the trading of environmental benefits stemming from tree planting. The program aims to incentivise voluntary environmental actions across various sectors, albeit concerns persist among environmentalists and policy experts regarding the reliance on market mechanisms for conservation and sustainability.

The methodology encourages large-scale tree planting on various types of land to generate credits, purchasable for fulfilling obligations under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), and compensatory afforestation requirements. Despite its innovative potential, critics highlight potential flaws such as accelerated scheme officiation, limited public consultation, and concerns over environmental efficacy and regulatory oversight.

The scheme aims to create a national market for environmental actions, with a focus on inter-sector fungibility. Proponents emphasise the importance of equivalence and value delivery to diverse stakeholders. However, the methodology's departure from the draft version raises concerns, particularly regarding the exclusion of detailed provisions for contributions from individuals and small landholders.

The methodology mandates forest and state departments to identify and provide land for tree plantations, with each planted tree generating a credit. However, it lacks clarity on evaluation criteria and long-term survivability of plantations. Concerns over poor monitoring and compliance in previous afforestation programs highlight potential pitfalls.

The program's integration with the domestic carbon market raises questions about additionality and regulatory oversight. While the scheme aims to avoid double counting, challenges remain in regulating simultaneous claims for different environmental benefits. The methodology's lack of clarity on risk allocation in case of plantation failure adds further complexity.

Critics also question the rationale of planting on degraded lands, stressing the need to consider biogeography and ecosystem integrity. Recent research suggests focusing on less-degraded forests for restoration to conserve biodiversity and enhance carbon storage. Addressing these concerns will be crucial for realising the program's potential in advancing sustainability goals while avoiding unintended consequences. (The Wire)

The National Wildlife Board's new protocol: Sequencing the forest and wildlife clearances

The standing committee of the National Wildlife Board has introduced a new protocol requiring project proposals to secure forest approvals before wildlife clearances, aiming to streamline decision-making and enhance scrutiny in eco-sensitive zones. Previously, forest and wildlife clearances often occurred concurrently, but this adjustment seeks to prevent conflicting rulings by prioritising forest clearance first.

However, concerns have arisen regarding potential ramifications. Some experts caution that granting forest clearance before wildlife clearance could create a "fait accompli" scenario, as forest clearance itself is a significant screening step in eco-sensitive zones. While the policy shift is welcomed for providing the Wildlife Board with critical information from forest clearance processes, ensuring that forest clearance does not imply automatic endorsement of wildlife clearance remains a challenge, given the distinct legislative frameworks governing both.

This adjustment follows a recent case involving a road project near the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, where objections were raised due to the lack of prior forest clearance. Despite receiving forest clearance in December 2022, the project faced scrutiny from the committee, ultimately being conditionally approved. The new policy aims to standardise procedures and empower the wildlife board to make more informed decisions, informed by prior forest clearance assessments. (Hindustan Times)

India's climate change challenges and the Paris Agreement

India faces significant challenges in addressing climate change, as outlined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Paris Agreement, to which India is a signatory, aims to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, reflecting the urgent need for action. Despite commitments to combat climate change and increase renewable energy capacity, India's budgetary allocation for climate-related initiatives has not seen a substantial increase.

The Paris climate conference highlighted the critical nature of climate change, prompting India to announce its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). As the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), India's commitment to renewable energy targets and emission intensity reduction is paramount. However, the transition to renewable energy must be balanced with the continued role of fossil fuels in India's energy mix.

India's climate action primarily rests with states and union territories, necessitating a coordinated approach to align regional action plans with national commitments. Gender-equitable and community-based strategies are essential for inclusive and sustainable development. Additionally, optimising resources and leveraging initiatives like the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) can enhance adaptation and mitigation efforts.

While renewable energy presents opportunities for growth, other sectors such as eco-friendly construction and climate-smart financial solutions also hold promise. However, achieving targets like creating additional carbon sinks requires significant investment and innovative approaches. The clarity on emission intensity targets and methodologies for measuring progress is crucial for monitoring India's climate commitments effectively.

Furthermore, the vulnerability of India's extensive coastline to climate impacts underscores the urgency of action. Despite announcements to prepare for implementing the Paris Agreement, the absence of a significant budgetary boost for climate change in the Union budget raises concerns about the scale of India's preparedness efforts.

India's journey towards fulfilling its climate commitments requires robust strategies, innovative solutions, and adequate financial support. Addressing climate change is not only a national imperative but also a global responsibility to safeguard the planet's future. (Down to Earth)

CPCB utilisation of environmental funds: A critical analysis

A recent report submitted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) reveals concerning trends in the utilisation of environmental funds. Despite collecting significant sums under the environment protection charge (EPC) and environmental compensation (EC), only 20% of these funds have been disbursed for mitigating air pollution in Delhi-NCR and environmental protection.

The EPC, mandated by the Supreme Court, entails a one percent charge on the ex-showroom price of new diesel vehicles with engine capacity of 2000cc and above, registered solely in Delhi and NCR. However, out of the total collection of Rs 383.89 crore until January 3, a mere Rs 95.4 crore has been allocated for crucial endeavours such as air quality improvement, vehicular pollution control, and health impact studies.

Similarly, the CPCB receives 25% of the environmental compensation levied by state pollution control boards, along with penalties from polluters. Despite receiving Rs 126.64 crore from states and Rs 267.16 crore directly from polluters until November 30, 2023, only a fraction of these funds—Rs 45.39 crore and Rs 15.5 crore respectively—have been released for various projects including monitoring, investigation, and research.

These funds are critical for undertaking vital initiatives such as reviewing national ambient air quality standards, setting up biodiversity parks, and conducting source apportionment studies. However, the underutilisation of funds raises questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental governance mechanisms.

The discrepancy between funds collected and their utilization underscores the need for greater accountability and transparency in environmental management. Effective utilisation of these funds is essential for addressing pressing environmental challenges and safeguarding public health. (Economic Times)

New rules on biodegradable plastics: Addressing microplastics

Recent amendments to India's Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024, introduced by the Environment Ministry, have tightened regulations on labeling disposable plastic products as 'biodegradable.' These rules now mandate that biodegradable plastics must not leave any microplastics behind, complicating the classification process for such materials.

Biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics have emerged as potential solutions to India's escalating plastic waste crisis. Biodegradable plastics undergo treatment before distribution and are expected to naturally decompose over time. However, there are currently no standardised tests to verify complete degradation. Compostable plastics, on the other hand, require specific waste management facilities for decomposition.

The new amendments define biodegradable plastics as materials capable of degradation through biological processes without leaving any microplastics residue. However, the rules lack clarity on the testing methods to determine the absence of microplastics and the acceptable levels of reduction required. There is a need for standardised tests to assess microplastic levels in both compostable and biodegradable plastics.

Microplastics, solid plastic particles insoluble in water and ranging from 1 µm to 1,000 µm in size, have become a significant environmental concern, polluting rivers and oceans. Amid the ban on single-use plastics and the promotion of biodegradable alternatives, defining the criteria for biodegradable plastics has become imperative.

However, the ambiguity surrounding the certification process has left manufacturers in limbo. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) requires a plastic sample to have degraded by 90% over a two-year period to qualify as biodegradable. Yet, the rules do not specify the degree of degradation necessary for provisional certification. Consequently, manufacturers demonstrating partial degradation within a shorter timeframe have been denied certification.

Clarity is needed regarding testing protocols and certification criteria to ensure fair evaluation and facilitate the adoption of sustainable plastic alternatives. (The Hindu)

This is a roundup of important policy updates from 16th March to 31st March, 2024. Read our news updates here.

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Post By: Amita Bhaduri