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 Climate Change

Environment
Published on: June 4, 2020, 9:28 p.m.
Nature-based solutions must be integrated in strategy to rebuild the economy
  • File picture of a green building. Source: Pixabay

By Ruchika Singh. The author is Director, Sustainable Landscapes and Restoration, WRI India

A part from bringing the world to a standstill, Covid-19 has highlighted the fact that we are inexorably linked, and that nature does not discriminate.

However, structural and societal inequalities have meant that those with limited access to food, wealth, and resources have been impacted the most. It is estimated that by disrupting the food supply chains and production systems, this pandemic could double the number of people going hungry globally.

Factory closures and stay-at-home orders have resulted in a reduction in emissions, and a visibly clean environment. The blue skies, clear waters, and fall in air pollution come as a ray of hope for inclusive green growth. India needs to take a two-pronged approach – tackle the ongoing pandemic mindfully, while keeping in mind the steps needed to mitigate the long-term impact of climate change.

It is time to develop a strategy integrating Nature-Based Solutions (NBS), using a landscape approach like forest protection, agroforestry, urban trees, mangrove restoration, green infrastructure creation through ecosystem-based water management and sustainable agricultural practices. Such an approach could effectively encompass socio-ecological transformation with people at the center, along with principles of green growth.

The science is clear: deforestation and fragmentation of landscapes have increased the risks of the outbreak of infectious diseases like COVID-19. The need of the hour, therefore, is to plan for a new normal involving connected and healthy forests and agricultural landscapes that could play a pivotal role in preventing future pandemics.

Key decisionmakers need to keep solutions grounded in science, heeding to complexity and multi-scalarity while empowering local bodies during the planning, design, and implementation of these projects. Here are a few suggestions that India could implement, that respect the voices of the people, their choices, and above all, maintains their dignity:

1. Improving cash in hand through assured employment, job creation through green infrastructure, tree planting, nursery development activities:

Currently, India is dealing with a crisis of hunger and starvation along with the threat posed by the pandemic. Measures taken to check the spread have resulted in the loss of jobs and livelihoods of migrant laborers, workers employed by the country’s vast informal sector, farmers and the forest-dependent population.

The Indian state should urgently take steps to mitigate disruption of value chains and de-link public distribution of food to ration cards, to improve access to food for workers in the gig economy. Additionally, impetus on employment-generation activities could be further ramped up through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme by planting native trees where ecologically appropriate, supporting nursery development and creation of green infrastructure that supports water conservation and recharge.

The 15th Finance Commission, in its report for FY2020-21, increased the weightage of forest criteria in the tax devolution formula from 7.5-10 per cent. Consequently, it is estimated that Rs85,526 crore ($11.1 billion) will flow from the Centre to states because of their forest and tree cover. Although these are untied funds, states could use these resources to support green infrastructure creation, strengthen health infrastructure, support restoration activities that break the fragmentation of landscapes, and enable creation of rural livelihoods and jobs.

2. Protect and conserve forests and avoid fragmentation of landscapes:

This is the time to embrace the science, acknowledge the connectivity, protect and conserve our environment. Economic stimulus need to look beyond diverting forest land for mining and hydropower projects. Embracing alternatives landscape-based approaches, at the heart of which lie social-ecological transformation principles, is critical.

3. Plan for landscapes/jurisdictions:

NBS (nature-based solutions), other sustainable agricultural practices and restoration through planting native trees taking into consideration the landscape, is key to building a green, resilient future. Appropriate sustainable agricultural practices can reduce land degradation, improve soil health, result in judicious use of water and energy and introduce cropping patterns that improve nutritional security. Interventions that consider people’s choices, access, tenure and resource rights and emerge from the local milieu is crucial to stimulate rural economy, create jobs and livelihoods. 

4. Strengthen the enabling environment and incentives for clean, inclusive value chains:

Sustainable landscape management, marketing of the produce and value addition through clean energy sources needs to be strengthened. Incentives for restoration and agri-businesses, farmer-producer organisations with high social and environmental impact and sound business models could be nurtured. Technology could be leveraged for reducing disruptive barriers which in times of crisis like this, could create an ecosystem for service delivery.

5. Recognise and empower local decision-making:

When local bodies are at the helm of decision-making, they pay more attention to the social-environmental content and inherently plan for sustainable management of resources like the case of community management of forest resources. Empowering urban and rural local bodies, decentralising funds, functioning, functionaries, thereby respecting local governance choices in decision-making, is the way forward.


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