NEW DELHI — The Indian government unveiled a major plan to protect its forests on Tuesday, saying the initiative was a key element in its strategy to combat climate change.
"Countries like India must get adequate credit for increasing its forest cover that absorbs greenhouse gases," said Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who is under pressure ahead of global climate change talks in December.
"We are amongst the few countries in the world who are not just stopping deforestation but are actually increasing forestation," he told reporters here.
India has set up a fund to manage its forests with an initial budget of 2.5 billion dollars and annual funding of one billion dollars, a report by the Ministry of Environment and Forests showed Tuesday.
Forests cover 65 million hectares of Indian territory or just over 20 percent of the country, according to the ministry.
While per capita emissions are low in India -- the average Indian produces one tonne of carbon dioxide per year to the average American's 20 tonnes -- its huge population puts it among the world's leading emitters.
India and fellow emerging market heavyweight China have consistently opposed binding emission cuts in a new climate treaty until developed nations, particularly the United States, present sufficiently stringent targets of their own.
Ramesh's statement came ahead of the December conference in Copenhagen, which is meant to seal a new international accord on fighting climate change after the Kyoto Protocol's requirements expire in 2012.
Ramesh also reiterated his belief that the Indian scientific community found "no robust scientific evidence" that climate change was causing Himalayan glaciers to melt.
"There could be other factors," he said.
The United Nations has warned that rising surface temperatures have led to rapid melting of regional ice caps, which are the headwaters for Asia's nine largest rivers.
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