Banks may chip in to help India increase its forest cover

If the environment ministry has its way, all banks will be asked to join the state and the central governments in their ongoing efforts to increase forest cover in the country. The move will be part of one of the 10 ways, identified by the Centre, to reach India's key climate goal.

As part of the country's climate action plan to achieve its nationally determined contribution (NDC) target of creating additional carbon sink under the Paris Agreement, the ministry has come out with a proposal seeking all banks to allocate a minimum of 25% of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds for afforestation across the country. It takes note of the clause 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 where the banks too are supposed to spend in every financial year at least 2% of their average net profit in three immediately preceding years on CSR initiatives which includes "ensuring environmental sustainability" as one of the activities.

A draft guideline of the ministry in this regard says that a bank may carry out afforestation from its earmarked fund, CSR Tree Plantation Fund, either by itself or by pooling resources with other banks. Actual works of afforestation can be done through involvement of NGOs, resident welfare associations or other registered societies. The draft, prepared by the ministry's National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board (NAEB), was discussed in a special session on first day of the two-day Conference of forest bureaucracy here on Friday. The session was dedicated to the country's strategies to achieve its one of the NDC's target through afforestation.

Under the target, India has promised to create additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through increasing forest and tree cover by 2030. The efforts will also help the country reach its goal under the National Forest Policy, 1988 to increase the country's forest and tree cover from existing around 24% to 33% of the total geographical area.

Besides roles for banks, the ministry has identified nine other ways to increase its carbon sink under the NDC. It includes creating 'city forest' ranging from 20 to 100 hectares (based on land availability), utilisation of CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) fund, carrying out national green highway mission, giving financial incentive to states for increasing\protecting forest cover and involving multiple stakeholders for increasing green cover

The draft on roles of banking institution gives details not only on how the banks would carry out afforestation but also on how these institutions will have to monitor the progress through plantation management committee. It says the afforestation projects of a particular bank would also be evaluated by an independent external agency.

"The time-frame of all projects should be for a minimum of five to seven years...Since protection of tress is important in first five years, sizeable amount should be kept for protection, awareness generation, monitoring and innovative measures for conservation of forests and wildlife", says the draft. It also emphasises that the species identified for planting under the initiative should be indigenous and as per the local requirement.

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