Climate change has gained immense importance since the 2000s and continues to do so. Gaining momentum somewhere in 2015-18, first with the Paris Climate Agreement and then with Greta Thunberg’s ‘Fridays For Future’ movement, humans’ impact on the environment is now well known among the scientific and academic community as well as the general public. Massive organisations such as NASA have dedicated research centres solely for monitoring climate change. Nations worldwide are trying to incorporate climate-resilient and climate protection policies and while being signatories of major climate deals. However, along with this, the rate of economic development worldwide has shot up tremendously.
Since the 20th century, the globe has witnessed numerous technological, social, ideological, and most importantly, demographical and industrial developments. A massive change in the demographics of industries and urban areas has led to skyrocketing urban population. A new era of "urban economy" has emerged. The urban population worldwide has grown drastically from 0.75 billion (1950) to 4.22 billion (2018). It is estimated by 2050, about 68.36% population will be living in urban areas.
India is no stranger to this rise in population and urban expansion. Like other nations of the Global South, India's metropolitan area has been growing exponentially. Due to this massive country-wide expansion, India has faced a considerable setback in the green environment. The increasing rate of urbanisation, though good for growth and development, hinders the nation's environmental stability. According to the World Bank, there is clear evidence of increasing temperatures, unpredictable monsoons, frequent droughts and melting of glaciers in India's different parts.
Forests: A Carbon Sink for Our Environment
A carbon sink would act as a reservoir for storing the carbon dioxide released by all the industrial activities, allowing a reduction of carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change mitigation.
As part of the Paris Climate Agreement, India has pledged to produce a carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by increasing forest and tree cover by 2030. Under the Bonn Challenge, India has also focused on the objective of re-establishing 13 million hectares (mha) of degraded and deforested land by 2020 and an extra 8 mha by 2030. An ambitious project, nevertheless, with the right direction might take off and help in producing a net carbon sink. To give impetus to the same idea, the importance of urban forestry in India needs to be highlighted.
What is Urban Forestry?
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines Urban Forestry, as “...the management of trees for their contribution to the physiological, sociological, and economic well-being of urban society. Urban forestry deals with woodlands, groups of trees, and individual trees, where people live - it is multifaceted, for urban areas include a great variety of habitats (streets, parks, derelict corners, etc) where trees bestow a great variety of benefits and problems.”
A relatively new approach to climate change, urban forestry fosters ecosystems where planned, and systematic urban tree management takes place in lieu of limited spaces, varied ownership of land, environmental enhancement and improvement in quality of life.
India has a few examples of urban forestry within cities such as Gandhinagar, Bangalore and Chandigarh. However, research on urban forestry is still limited and thus needs a more expansive scope.
The Miyawaki Method of Forestry
With this in mind, a policy suggestion to bolster the urban forestry idea in India can be using the Miyawaki Method. Having been implemented in India earlier, a formal induction of the same at a national policy level might lead to better results.
Miyawaki Method is a form of urban forestry where forests are planted on small patches of land and proliferate systematically to form dense thickets and act as a carbon sink. The said method was introduced by Dr Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese professor who, after he engaged with the idea of potential natural vegetation, found that protected regions around sanctuaries, temple shrines and burial grounds in Japan contained a vast assortment of local vegetation that existed together to create strong and unique ecological systems. These ecosystems could be made using new native saplings or pre-existing tree formations and can mature as fast as 20 years.
The Process: Making Mini Forests
The initial step starts with finding an area 3-4 meters wide and has proper exposure to daylight, ideally 8 hours or more.
Then the soil is prepared, so its composition is ideal for forest growth. Characteristically, perforators like a wheat husk or corn husk are utilised for water to seep through the soil, alongside cocopeat that helps the soil hold moisture. Likewise, organic fertilisers or natural manures can be used to make the soil richer.
Subsequently, picking out an assortment of local plant saplings (for example, neem, jamun or tamarind) will make a biodiverse forest space. Preferably, various types of native plants ought to be set together with the goal that no two saplings of similar species are planted together. The saplings must be planted in a multi-layer style, starting with a bush layer (up to six feet), followed by a sub-tree (up to 12 feet) and tree layer (up to 25 feet), finishing with a canopy layer (up to 40 feet). Saplings need to be planted, keeping an estimated 60-centimetre distance among them and must have bamboo sticks attached to them, so they stay upstanding.
After everything has been planted, water needs to be provided to the patch regularly. The seeds can also be planted in separate bags or pots and can be followed up after planting in the open for up to 3 years, leaving it to nature afterwards. This will lead to a layered type fast-growing urban forest in the next 20-25 years as opposed to over 100 years taken by traditional forest spaces.
India's success with Miyawaki Forests
A rise in Miyawaki forests has been seen across India in cities like Bangalore, Chennai, and Mumbai. Organisations such as Afforestt and Acacia Eco have managed to make incredible strides in erecting a good number of Miyawaki Forests. In some cases, local communities, with local governments’ help, have also led to prosperous plantations.
In Chennai, the Greater Chennai Corporation, Tiruchirappalli City Municipal Corporation, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple and The Inner Wheel - a woman's voluntary organisation have come together to increase forest cover using the Miyawaki technique and plan to do so for the creation of up to 10 forest lands in the capital.
India’s Plan for a Sustainable Future
Despite the extensive economic development, India has managed to remain in the top 10 countries for the Climate Change Performance Index until 2021 due to its national policy framework.
At the domestic level, policy plans such as the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) were constituted as early as 2008. The Twelfth Five Year Plan was focused on sustainable growth and inclusive development. Adaptation and mitigation technologies are being introduced via National Afforestation Programme, Scrappage Policy and Green Tax Policy.
While the Miyawaki forests and their formal induction at a national level might help to seal the policy gap between the high rate of urbanisation and increasing green cover, they are not solely sufficient to combat climate change. Bodies such as Central Pollution Control Boards and National Green Tribunals also need to be more emphatic in their roles.
A long-term sustainable plan towards protecting the ecosystem and promoting a green environment is urgently required in India, and a more evident division of responsibilities regarding the NAPCC among the state and central governments is required, only then can India achieve its target of fostering a sustainable future.
About the Author:
Asmita Jain is a post-graduate student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. Her interests are public policy, institutions and urban ecology. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org