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Nature: Reforesting India

Planting trees seems like a cheap and easy way to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere while improving land and soil stocks that have been degraded over the decades. The international community recognized as much when it included reforestation in the Kyoto Protocol more than a decade ago.

Since that time, however, very little has been done, in part because translating botany and ecology into economic terms isn’t easy. And once you get the translation right, you’ve still got to establish the regulations and institutions – both government and economic – to make it happen.

In this week’s edition of Nature, Paroma Basu takes a look at how that process has unfolded in India, a country that has enormous potential to take advantage of this particular mechanism to address global warming. The story focuses on one of India’s first forestry-based projects under the Clean Development Mechanism, painting a picture of a complicated and bureaucratic process that is bound to frustrate and deter the very people it seeks to serve.

Some of this might be unavoidable – early movers in any new program end up clearing brush. But similar complaints have arisen throughout the CDM, leading to calls for a streamlined process that will accommodate the kind of demand many hope to see in a thriving global carbon market. Climate negotiators spent considerable time discussing ways to do just that at the UN climate conference in Poland last month.

The trick, however, is ensuring that the system does what it is supposed to do, which is reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even in its current form, the CDM has plenty of critics who question the veracity – and cost – of many projects.

All of which means the United Nations must both streamline and build confidence in the system. It’s a tall but necessary order if the CDM is to become a major mechanism for transferring climate funds to the developing world.


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