Scoring a foreign policy self-goal
Paper: Important aspects of governance, citizens’ charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.
For Prelims: CAA, NRC and their positive and Negative impacts nationally or internationally.
For Mains: Foreign policy of India and How the CAA affect the Foreign policy of India?
Why in news?
- The government’s political expediency over the Citizenship Act has landed India in an unenviable diplomatic spot.
CAA and Foreign Policy Implications:
- While the present government’s decisions on Jammu and Kashmir put the spotlight on New Delhi, the recently legislated Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, or CAA, 2019 pushed it over the edge.
- Not only has the Act deeply divided a communally sensitive country, its effect is bound to have long-term implications for India’s foreign policy.
- The frightening fall of a great nation has begun. Once a leading light of inclusiveness, democracy, and a major pole of stability in the comity of nations, despite occasional failings, India today is embarrassingly at the centre of attention for bad behaviour.
- India’s global standing is ever more vulnerable today, and the chinks in India’s diplomatic armor have never been so evident.
The essence of the CAA:
- Shorn of the deliberate confusion and politically-convenient rhetoric, the CAA is neither about refugees nor about illegal immigrants, as the government would like to claim, it is about the Muslims in India.
- If you are an Indian Muslim with incontrovertible domicile documents, it is a message for you. If you do not have the requisite documents and you are Muslim, this is where you should be scared about your future.
- The objective of CAA is to provide refuge to the persecuted, for this, we need is a proper refugee law with legally sound standard operating procedures on a par with global standards, and without discrimination.
- And if it is about illegal immigration, the assumption, when one reads the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) together that only Muslims can be illegal immigrants is a deeply problematic one.
- The present government’s zealous pursuit of the CAA citing human rights violations in the neighborhood and illegal immigration from it is a foreign policy self-goal.
- If it were to derive domestic political utility from it, the illegal immigration to India without castigating Bangladesh, nor could it have pontificated about the human rights violations of non-Muslims in the region without pointing fingers at Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
- It is such political expediency that has landed the government in an unenviable diplomatic spot today.
- The Government did not foresee the negative fallout its policies and rhetoric on India’s relations with two of its best friends in the region, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, at a time when it does not have many friends in the neighborhood.
- The political leaders of the Indian government decided to sacrifice the country’s crucial foreign policy interests at the altar of domestic political contingencies.
- This becomes a diplomatic double whammy given how India is already losing its traditional heft and influence in the region and at a time a China-led balance of power is emerging in the region.
- On the contrary, South Block’s foreign policy mandarins are wary of the Chinese state’s sure-footed engulfment of the neighborhood. And yet, the political leaders have preferred domestic political gains over diplomatic benefits, relegating foreign policy to the whims of electoral outcomes.
Reputational costs of India:
- From Kashmir to the NRC to the CAA, one reckless action after another, New Delhi seems to have finally exhausted the goodwill of the international community.
- The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the CAA “fundamentally discriminatory” something unheard of in recent memory.
- The United States, urged the country to “protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s Constitution and democratic values”.
- The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) referred to CAA as not only “highly discriminatory and arbitrary” but also contrary to New Delhi’s “obligations under international human rights laws”.
- New Delhi’s attempts to reach out to the international community, albeit selectively, while assiduously avoiding those critical of its policies, have not met with much success.
- For a government that steadfastly shied away from internationalizing domestic issues, its own actions have done precisely that thereby bringing lasting damage to the country’s reputation.
Why a Country should worry about its reputation?
- The present Government has traditionally been more concerned about India’s reputation, at least as a rhetorical plank, than anyone else.
- India’s traditional foreign policy pursuit has been a careful mix of soft power and material capability with the balance often tilting in favour of soft power.
- Reputation, among other things, is critical in aiding India’s quest for a place at the high table of international politics, such as acquiring a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) seat.
- India was the region’s quintessential status quo power that the world loved to engage and promote. This key characteristic of India may be undergoing a dramatic change, with many viewing India as a reckless power with revisionist ambitions just as Pakistan has long been viewed.
Great power equations of India:
- India is a major power with great power ambitions and may even be an indispensable power in some respects. However, if India decides to shape its foreign policy based purely on domestic calculations, its indispensability and system-shaping abilities will take a serious hit.
- A great power, among other things, is a state that is willing to live up to certain global expectations and has the ability and willingness to help with system maintenance.
- Great powers have traditionally been supportive of India’s rise in the global order and have more or less stood by India in its pursuit of power and reputation.
- The focus on crucial regional and global issues seems to be waning fast. With renegotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, no appetite to be part of the Afghan peace process, and disinterest in the Indian Ocean’s geopolitics, among others, the regime in New Delhi resembles as a provincial capital.
- Ensure that foreign policy and assistance prioritizes support for democratic principles, including media freedom, as the foundation of national security and economic prosperity.
- National security and economic prosperity are strongest in nations where democratic rights are protected, and a free press is a key watchdog of democracy.
Reading the new Forest Report
Paper: GS III
Topic: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.
For Prelims: ISFR Report, Forest Survey of India (FSI).
For Mains: Need for conservation and government policy to save the environment.
Why in News: The Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, released the biennial “India State of Forest Report (ISFR)”, and overall green cover rises, but northeast records a dip.
The Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, released the biennial “India State of Forest Report (ISFR)”
- The report is published by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) which has been mandated to assess the forest and tree resources of the country including wall-to-wall forest cover mapping in a biennial cycle.
- Starting in 1987, 16 assessments have been completed so far.
- ISFR 2019 is the 16th report in the series.
- State of Forest Report 2019 has shown a 1,275 km2 gain in very dense forest, but what this statistic masks is the fact that the country continues to lose its best natural forests.
A look at what was gained and lost
Given the pressure on forest land and natural resources, these figures have made happy headlines. But they do not tell how India continues to lose some of its best natural forests a reality documented in the SFR itself.
- India’s forest cover has increased by 3,976 km2 or 0.56% since 2017.
- For the second successive time since 2007, the biennial State of Forest Report(SFR) recorded a gain an impressive 1,275 km2 in dense forest (including Very Dense Forest with a canopy density of over 70%, and Moderately Dense Forest with a canopy density of 40-70%).
- SFR data show 2,145 km2 of dense forests became non-forests since 2017. A dense forest can deteriorate into an open forest (10-40% canopy density) but conversion to non-forest signifies total destruction. This means India has lost dense forests one-and-a-half times Delhi’s expanse in just two years.
- Not natural forest: Since 2017, plantations with high canopy density have added 2,441 km2 to the dense forest category, while 1,858 km2 of non-forests have become dense forests. These are plantations of fast-growing species since natural forests rarely grow so fast.
- Since 2003 when data on “change matrix” were first made available, 18,065 km2 — more than one-third of Punjab’s landmass of dense forests have become non-forests in the country, nearly half of this (8,552 km2) in the last four years.
- Making up for much of this destruction of quality natural forests, 10,227 km2 of non-forests (read plantations) became dense forests in successive two-year windows since 2003, over half of this (5,458 km2) since 2015.
- While hill forests have gained in quality, large tracts of tropical forests have fallen off the “dense” category since 2017. The biggest loss 23,550 km2 is under the tropical semi-evergreen head in SFR 2019. In India, tropical semi-evergreen forests are found along the western coast, lower slopes of the eastern Himalayas, Odisha and Andamans.
- Of India’s 7.12 lakh km2 forest cover, 52,000 km2 is plantations that, in any case, cannot substitute natural forests in biodiversity or ecological services.
- Of 7, 28,520 km2 recorded forest area from digitised data and the Survey of India’s topographic maps of green-wash areas (forestland), 2, 15,084 km (nearly 30%) recorded no forest cover in SFR 2019. In other words, forestland roughly the combined area of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal holds no forests.
- There has been no recovery since 2017 as forest cover on forestland has shrunk by 330 km2 in the last two years.
Finer detail than before
- The Forest Survey of India (FSI) uses satellite images to identify greenery as forest cover.
- In the 1980s, satellite imagery mapped forests on a scale of 1:1 million and missed details of land units smaller than 4 km2.
- The 1:50,000 scales now scans patches as small as 1 hectare, and any unit that shows a 10% tree canopy density is considered “forest”.
- FSI acknowledged that fast-growing species such as bamboo, rubber, coconut, etc. contributed to rapid change in canopy density converting no-forest areas to dense forests. “No forest types are assigned to monocultures since these are not natural.
Issues associated with the – The Forest Survey of India (FSI) uses satellite images
- While the SFR never segregated natural forests from thickets of weeds such as juliflora or lantana, and commercial monocultures such as palm, coconut, rubber, etc., it has the capacity to identify plantations.
- That is how it classified over 52,000 km2 of “forests” as plantations while recording “Forest Type and Density-wise Carbon Stock” across the country.
- FSI needs more time and resources if to identify and classify plantations through ground trothing.
- Proposal: Meanwhile, the FSI may start reporting India’s green cover under more explicit categories, including plantations, and make the forest grid data public for anyone to visit a green patch and check what stands in the name of the forest.
What carbon numbers mean for climate targets?
India, as part of its contribution to the global fight against climate change, has committed itself to creating an “additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent” by 2030.
- The State of Forest Report (SFR) 2019, while showing an increase in the carbon stock trapped in Indian forests in the last two years, also shows why it is going to be an uphill task for India in meeting one of its international obligations on climate change.
- India, as part of its contribution to the global fight against climate change, has committed itself to creating an “additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent” by 2030.
- Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs:
- That is one of the three targets India has set for itself in its climate action plan, called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, that every country has to submit under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
- The other two relate to an improvement in emissions intensity and an increase in renewable energy deployment.
- India has said it would reduce its emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) by 33% to 35% by 2030 compared to 2005.
- It has also promised to ensure that at least 40% of its cumulative electricity generation in 2030 would be done through renewable energy.
What is the relationship between forests and carbon?
- Forests, by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the process of photosynthesis, act as a natural sink of carbon.
- Together with oceans, forests absorb nearly half of global annual carbon dioxide emissions.
- In fact, the carbon currently stored in the forests exceeds all the carbon emitted in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial age.
- An increase in the forest area is thus one of the most effective ways of reducing the emissions that accumulate in the atmosphere every year.
How do the latest forest data translate into carbon equivalent?
- The latest forest survey shows that the carbon stock in India’s forests (not including tree cover outside of forest areas) have increased from 7.08 billion tonnes in 2017, when the last such exercise had been done, to 7.124 billion tonnes now. This translates into 26.14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent as of now.
- It is estimated that India’s tree cover outside of forests would contribute another couple of billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
How challenging does this make it for India in meeting its target?
- An assessment by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) last year had projected that, by 2030, the carbon stock in forests as well as tree cover was likely to reach 31.87 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in the business as usual scenario.
- An additional 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of sink, as India has promised to do, would mean taking the size of the sink close to 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
- Considering the rate of growth of the carbon sink in the last few years, that is quite a stiff target India has set for itself.
- In the last two years, the carbon sink has grown by just about 0.6%%.
- Even compared to 2005, the size of the carbon sink has increased by barely 7.5%.
- To meet its NDC target, even with most optimistic estimates of carbon stock trapped in trees outside of forest areas, the sink has to grow by at least 15% to 20% over the next ten-year period.
So, what is the way forward?
There are two key decisions to be made in this regard selection of the baseline year and the addition of the contribution of the agriculture sector to carbon sink.
- The baseline year can impact the business-as-usual projections for 2030.
- BAU projections are obtained using policies that existed in the baseline year.
- Now, there has been a far greater effort in recent years to increase the country’s forest cover.
- So a 2015 baseline would lead to a higher BAU estimate for 2030 compared to a 2005 baseline when less effort was being made to add or regenerate forests.
- The FSI projections made last year used a 2015 baseline. If the 2005 baseline is used, India’s targets can be achieved relatively easily.
- India’s emissions intensity target uses a 2005 baseline, so there is an argument that the forest target should also have the same baseline.
- But there is a strong demand for a 2015 baseline as well so that it results in some concrete progress in adding new forest cover.
- When India announced its NDC in 2015, it did not mention the baseline year. It has to decide on it before it reconfirms its NDC targets ahead of the next climate change meeting in Glasgow towards the end of the year.
- At that time, India would also have to specify whether it wants to count the carbon sink in the agriculture sector in its target.
- The NDC specifically mentions that and “additional” 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon sink would be created through “additional forest and tree cover by 2030”, but Environment Ministry officials insist that tree cover outside forest areas must include agriculture as well.
- The information given in the report would provide valuable information for policy, planning and sustainable management of forest and tree resources in the country.
State of Forest Report 2019 has shown a 1,275 km2 gain in very dense forest, but what this statistic masks is the fact that the country continues to lose its best natural forests. Discuss.
Question Demand: Question demands to write about the quality of natural forest decreasing in the country. What are the steps needed to improve the tree-cover as the target to reach 33% as per the National Forest Policy, 1988, which envisages. Mention about initiatives taken by the government that has helped to improve the forest cover in the country.
Introduction: Mention the State forest report and its importance in getting the data.
- Explain the importance of forest for conservation as well as for the economy.
- Issues in improving the forest cover in the country.
- Data represented by the report that can be influential in implementing the policy.
Conclusion: Suggest the steps that need to be adopted in the conservation and maintenance of forest and green cover.
About Forest Survey of India (FSI)
- Forest Survey of India (FSI) is a premier national organization under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, responsible for assessment and monitoring of the forest resources of the country regularly.
- In addition, it is also engaged in providing the services of training, research, and extension.
- Established on June 1, 1981, the Forest Survey of India succeeded the “Pre-investment Survey of Forest Resources” (PISFR), a project initiated in 1965 by the Government of India with the sponsorship of FAO and UNDP.
- The main objective of PISFR was to ascertain the availability of raw material for the establishment of wood-based industries in selected areas of the country.
- In its report in 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture (NCA) recommended for the creation of a National Forest Survey Organization for a regular, periodic and comprehensive forest resources survey of the country leading to the creation of FSI.
- After a critical review of activities undertaken by FSI, Government of India redefined the mandate of FSI in 1986 in order to make it more relevant to the rapidly changing needs and aspirations of the country.