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Himalayan forest ecosystem services: Incorporating in national accounting

  • Singh, S. P.
  • Summary
Resulting from interactions between biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems, ecosystem services sustain and fulfill human life.  Without them economics of the world would grind to a halt. Some of the common ecosystem services associated with forests are hydrologic regulation, climatic control, soil formation, carbon sequestration and recreation. The cost of products such as foodgrains, hydroelectricity and drinking water would be much higher if ecosystem services were fully accounted for in monetary terms. At present consumers do not pay for the services of ecosystems that are used to produce goods and services enjoyed by humans. Because of this natural ecosystems are liable to degrade and eventually collapse, leaving future generations with depleted natural capital and fewer options. In a major exercise by a team of economists and ecologists the monetary value of global ecosystem services was estimated at least, at $ 33 trillion, which was about as much as the then global GDP (in 1994).

Both ecology and economic valuation of ecosystem services are still in infancy. Here are the first approximations of values of Himalayan forest ecosystem services, primarily based on the estimates of Costanza et al. (1997) for temperate and tropical forests. While applying their values, the ecological characters of the Himalayan forests have been kept in view, that are closer to tropical than temperate forests. As for carbon sequestration estimates, they are fairly reliable. Our estimates of forest carbon pool in Indian Himalaya is about 5.4 billion t (forest biomass + forest soil), which is about equal to the annual carbon emission from fossil fuels in Asia. The total value of forest ecosystem services flowing from Uttarakhand is about 2.4 billion dollars/yr, or Rs. 107 billion/yr, and at Indian Himalayan level it is Rs. 943 billion/yr.

Because of the river connections, the ecosystem services flowing from Uttarakhand have played a principal role in shaping the rise of culture in the great Gangetic plains, inhabited by nearly 500 million Indians. Therefore, it is important that the Himalayan forests are conserved, and people living in Himalayan regions given appropriate economic incentives for their conservation efforts. Whatever success the people of the Himalayan regions have achieved, they have been able to do so without enjoying facilities of modern energy sources. The economic gains for providing ecosystem services to downstream areas could be used to supply cooking gas or electricity at an affordable cost. The value of ecosystem services could be at least reflected in national accounting systems, particularly while transferring money from the center to states. Getting payment for maintaining standing forests would be a great advancement in the area of conservation.

The main goal of the Kyoto; Think Global, Act Local project is to be able empower local community forest groups in the Himalayan region to access funds under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Climate Change. Initiated in 2003, this multinational project is being led by the University of Twente, The Netherlands and regionally coordinated by ICIMOD, Nepal. In Uttarakhand state of India, CHEA is the implementing it and this publication is a sharing of research carried under the project.
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    Central Himalayan Environment Association: http://www.communitycarbonforestry.org/NewPublications/HimalayanForestESs.pdf