Across South Asia, the monsoon rains and muddy streets of August 1947 marked the end of the great and horrifically violent British Indian Empire. On the 14th and 15th of August 1947, Pakistan and India were created from the vestiges of two centuries of British exploitation. The drawing of these new political lines on the map, based partly on religious demographics, lead to an influx of Sikh and Hindu refugees from the new territory of Paskistan into India.
Over the next few years, the Sirsa district of India’s Haryana state, on the fringes of the Great Thar Desert, was inundated with immigrants seeking safety in religious numbers. These newcomers, coupled with the impoverishing legacies (trajectories) of British rule, had drastic affects for the socioecological state of the district. The forested areas were cleared for fuel, the cleared areas farmed, and the farmed areas depleted. This rapid and large-scale deforestation has had severe implications for the socioecological systems in the area: changing local climate, increasing sand dune formation and migration, and depleting nutrients from the soil. Only small remnants of the native forest remain.
On the 23rd of March 2009, after years of wading through the murky waters of UN bureaucracy, the Haryana CDM Tree Farmers Society registered their restoration project with the UN and began producing carbon offset credits they could sell on the international carbon market. It is proposed that with capital investments, this degraded land and the communities that farm it, can produce a commodity that is increasingly sought after by carbon spewing developed countries: the omnipotent carbon offset credit. The project is approved to generate credits for 20 years with validation every 5 years. The purpose of this restoration project is four fold:
1) to earn carbon credits from re/afforesation through the CDM mechanism
2) mitigate climate change through biosequestration of carbon
3) to improve local environmental conditions, to increase water holding capacity of soils through increased organic matter (humus), and to stabilize sand dunes by converting abandoned and marginal crop lands through agroforestry and agroecological BMPs
4) increase income, provide employment, alleviate poverty
The project entails the reforestation/afforetation of 370 hectares of marginal farm land with seven tree species, six native and one exotic, and the implementation BMPs. It is interesting to note that the one exotic species chosen for this project is a Eucalyptus hybrid that has become naturalized not just ecologically in the area, but also culturally. Also, many of the trees being planted are native to the general region, but do not naturally occur in the areas being reforested. Agroforestry species were chosen based on ecological, economic, and social criteria. Some species were chosen specifically to fulfill certain ecological and/or socioeconomic functions.
Because this is a CDM based restoration project, the criteria for success are fairly straightforward. The success is based, in order of importance, on the goals laid out above. Funding for the project is tied explicitly to the ability of restoration actions to demonstrate that carbon is being sequestered. Therefore, in a sense, poverty alleviation depends on the ability to demonstrate that your restoration site sequesters carbon. This project was approved under the CDM’s “simplified baseline and monitoring methodology,” which means that only live above and below ground biomass are measured and monitored (other routes through the CDM bureaucracy can get at other carbon stocks like litter, woody debris, and soil organic carbon). As well, it is argued that social, financial, and technological barriers prevent the degraded areas from naturally regenerating. These barriers fulfill the additionality condition of the CDM. This condition stipulates that the project would not take place without CDM funding. The actual methodologies for measurement and verification, along with the procedure for procuring CDM funding can be found on the UNFCCC website listed above. There is also a database of all CDM and JI projects if one is so inclined.
In a past discussion piece I argued that the social implications of restoration are becoming increasingly important to the financial communities that seek offsets credits and the institutions that enable this financing. I think this project is a good example of the role that social success, or proposed social success, plays in securing financing. While the main point of the project is carbon offset credit generation, thorough attention to poverty alleviation played a big role in the approval and authorization of the project. This can be seen in both how the project was planned and proposed, and the fact that the Haryana CDM Tree Farmers Society is comprised of 227 farmers in eight communities that each allocated a small portion of land for the project.
There are of course many questions not answered about the project. Will it actually lead to increased standards of living for the eight communities while also sequestering carbon? Or will the benefits accrue to a select few? Is measuring just live above ground and below ground biomass a scientifically sound method for understanding carbon biosequestration? Will reforestation stop the sand dunes from encroaching in on the farmlands, or will the current socioecological trajectories and the system attractor of commodity production and exchange prevent this from happening? For me, I think one of the most important questions that never really gets answered is what happens after 20 years and credit generation dries up? I guess we will just have to wait and see.
Image credit: http://knowledge.allianz.com/en/media/galleries/climate_profile_china.html