According to reports, environmental sustainability is the need of the hour. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased to unprecedented levels. From 1750 to 2011, deforestation and other land use changes are estimated to have released 660.06 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2), the second largest contributor to the 40 per cent increase in carbon dioxide concentrations since pre-industrial times. Increasing emissions and the compounding severity of global warming and climate change impacts pose substantial risks to businesses. It makes it imperative for them to review their carbon footprint.
A tangible avenue for a winning alliance between the Indian forestry sector and corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be established to supplement carbon emission reductions over larger scales.
This could very well be a solution to the carbon conundrum for businesses which are required to spend 2 per cent of their average net profit towards CSR, and thereby achieve emission reductions as directed in the recently enacted Companies Act 2013. The Act puts into perspective the means of achieving socially and environmentally responsible targets for businesses in India.
An activity that falls under the CSR umbrella includes ensuring environmental sustainability, which is fast becoming a key concern of businesses.
This is partly attributed to their entire operations being dependent on natural resources for raw materials and fuel, and partly due to the mandate for businesses to explore and enhance their CSR initiatives through monitoring and reporting. The National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economical Responsibilities of Business and the Global Reporting Initiative both provide such a platform.
In India, numerous governmental interventions exist that can provide a pathway for CSR. In the forestry sector, the National Action Mission for Climate Change has eight missions under its fold in specific areas, i.e. Solar Energy, Enhanced Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Habitat, Water, Sustaining the Himalayan Eco-system, Green India, Sustainable Agriculture and Strategic knowledge for Climate Change. They include assessment of the impact and action needed to address climate change.
Of particular importance is the National Mission for a Green India or Green India Mission (GIM) which aims at enhancing carbon sinks in sustainably managed forests and other ecosystems, adaptation of vulnerable species/ecosystems to the changing climate and adaptation of forest-dependent communities. GIM and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) plus are both based on forest conservation and enhancement of ecosystem services for carbon and non-carbon benefits.
According to a recent news report, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is seeking private sector participation for their GIM programme. This Rs 46,000-crore project spanning a 10-year period, due to paucity of funds, is set to converge with schemes under the Ministry of Rural Development such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).
Businesses could explore augmenting the funds of GIM.
They are primarily searching for avenues to achieve higher quantity and quality reductions, which provide an adequate time-frame to plan strategies.
Notwithstanding the importance of actual emission reductions, businesses require offsetting reductions to achieve targets annually. In a programme like GIM, this becomes possible.
The mission will provide adequate scope for flexibility as the businesses look to contribute to the fund generally and achieve offsets. Businesses stand to gain from such alliances.
They will receive quantifiable emission reductions to support their sustainability policies.
It is expected that these reductions could demand a significant value in the carbon markets. Findings of the report by Forest Trends’ ‘Ecosystem Marketplace’ (state of the forest carbon markets, 2013) suggest that the private sector remained the largest source of demand, responsible for 19.7 MtCO2e or 70 per cent of market activity. Two out of every three offsets were sold to multinational corporations.
Some 23 per cent of businesses were motivated by offset-inclusive CSR activities, and 20 per cent to “demonstrate climate leadership” in their industry or to send signals to regulators.
However, using offsets in an uncertain carbon market requires further investigation, as the 2015 Climate Agreement will reveal the future of carbon market-based mechanisms. Till then, supporting programmes such as the Green India Mission under the CSR umbrella will prove to be a gainful alliance.