Tiger conservation mitigating climate change - GulfToday

Tiger conservation mitigating climate change

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Tigers in India

India is home to more than 70% of the world’s endangered tiger population.

India’s tiger conservation policy has helped in preserving and increasing tiger populations and played a role in climate change mitigation by avoiding forest loss according to latest research findings, a Mongabay-India report highlights.

The report adds that enhanced conservation management of tiger reserves in India has helped avoid forest loss, preventing one million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. This represents $93 million in ecosystem services from the avoided social cost of emissions.

Citing a study published in Nature in May 2023,’Climate co-benefits of tiger conservation’, the Mongabay-India report points out that India is home to more than 70% of the world’s endangered tiger population. In 2005, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) was established, and key protected areas were designated as tiger reserves across India, which had enhanced protection and monitoring. By the end of 2022, around 53 tiger reserves across India were under enhanced management. Reserves under this policy are required to prepare a conservation plan regulating the extraction of forest products, reducing deforestation drivers and encouraging alternative livelihoods for communities that live within tiger conservation landscapes.

In the study, the researchers estimated the forest carbon storage co-benefits of a national policy intervention for tiger (Panthera tigris) conservation in India. They used a synthetic control approach to model avoided forest loss and associated carbon emissions reductions in protected areas that underwent enhanced protection for tiger conservation. The study modelled forest loss and the associated carbon emissions reductions in 45 tiger reserves that were under enhanced protection from 2007 to 2020 compared with 117 untreated protected areas.

The abstract of the study points out that biodiversity conservation is increasingly being recognized as an important co-benefit in climate change mitigation programmes that use nature-based climate solutions. However, the climate co-benefits of biodiversity conservation interventions, such as habitat protection and restoration, remain understudied.

The abstract further states that over a third of the analysed reserves showed significant but mixed effects, where 24% of all reserves successfully reduced the rate of deforestation and the remaining 9% reported higher-than-expected forest loss. The policy had a net positive benefit with over 5802 hectares of averted forest loss, corresponding to avoided emissions of approximately 1.08 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2007 and 2020. This translated to around $93 million in ecosystem services from the avoided social cost of emissions and potential revenue of about $7 million in carbon offsets. These findings offer an approach to quantitatively track the carbon sequestration co-benefits of a species conservation strategy and thus help align the objectives of climate action and biodiversity conservation. The study says that nature-based solutions, particularly through habitat protection and restoration, are an important approach that can help accomplish both goals simultaneously. forest carbon offsetting projects that integrate biodiversity co-benefits into their stated goals perform substantially better in terms of market preference compared with those projects that focus only on carbon reductions.

Researchers found that 15 out of 45 tiger reserves during the study showed significant but mixed results on deforestation. Overall, the designation of tiger reserves had a net positive impact on forest protection with 11 out of 15 reserves avoiding deforestation. Reserves in Central India showed higher avoided forest loss with Nawegaon–Nagzira Reserve emerging as the best-performing reserve. Four reserves, however, showed higher forest loss than the control models. Two of these reserves fall in Northeast India.

Researchers say that findings suggest that integrating species conversation programmes into global carbon markets could provide additional opportunities for funding the protection and restoration of natural habitats. The Mongabay-India report highlights that carbon markets are well-established trading systems where carbon credits, representing a reduction or removal of greenhouse gas emissions, are bought and sold. They are issued to organizations or individuals that have taken measurable steps to reduce their carbon footprint, according to the researchers. In recent years, the voluntary carbon market has grown rapidly with nature-based climate solutions such as forest protection and restoration.

But the report also states that some experts feel tiger conservation does not represent a useful co-benefit for carbon sequestration in India’s protected area landscape. The study’s researchers acknowledge that the study focuses on deforestation, which represents the complete loss of forest cover in an area. Also, the carbon benefits discussed primarily apply to species found in high-carbon ecosystems such as terrestrial forests, limiting the generalizability of a biodiversity-first paradigm. But they feel such evaluations to establish an evidence base for directing more resources towards species conservation programmes.

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