The need is to become scientifically rigorous on tree plantation; with drastic climate change becoming an unyielding threat, there will be a need for more such drives.
The various co-benefits that accompany climate action link the missions and mandates of several ministries.
Last year, The Independent, a UK-based newspaper, reported that unscientific planting of trees was causing environmental harm instead of the benefits intended. The UK government had carbon sinks in mind when it ordered the planting of trees in large numbers, but planting in peatlands and wetlands destroyed soil quality and led to more emissions. India, with plans to create a 3 billion tonne carbon sink from forests by 2030, seems to have failed to learn from this episode.
The Times of India cites a study by the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) to report that tree plantation under the National Clean Air Programme is just a target-driven exercise with little planning and application. In Delhi, for instance, trees were planted in the Eastern and Central Delhi region, whereas polluting clusters like Dwarka, Mundka, Narela and Bawana were left out.
In other cities, the situation was similar—in Hyderabad, out of the 43 plantations done, only one was in a pollution hotspot. In Chandigarh, parks and community centres were chosen as preferred locations. Moreover, the report states that the tree species planted were ornamental or incompatible with their local environment and barely absorbed emissions.
The need is to become scientifically rigorous on tree plantation; with drastic climate change becoming an unyielding threat, there will be a need for more such drives. But if it is done with earnest sans awareness, the results, as the UK example shows, could be disastrous. To that end, the states and the Centre need to reimagine regulation with local environmental contexts in mind.