From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much.
Mains level : Paper 3- Need to define the natural forests and effects of climate change on forests.
Global warming, drought and El Niño may lead to increased forest fires.
The success story of India
- Reduced deforestation: India has succeeded in reducing deforestation to some extent through an effective Forest Conservation Act and large-scale afforestation programme.
- Comparison with other countries: India performed better when compared with other forest-rich tropical countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Without the Forest Conservation Act and its reasonably effective implementation, India would have lost significant extent of forest area.
- Increased afforestation: India has also been implementing significant scale afforestation, though the rates of afforestation have declined recently.
- Agro-forestry, involving raising fruit tree plantations contribute to some extent.
- Commercial plantations of eucalyptus, casuarina, teak, poplar, etc., have been raised by farmers for commercial purposes.
- The above steps have resulted in potentially reducing the pressure on natural forests.
Need to measure ‘natural forest’
- Increase in an area under forest: According to the latest biennial State of Forest Report (SFR) of the Forest Survey of India (FSI), an area under forests has been increasing.
- Natural forests not specifically measured: It is not clear what percentage of increase in forest area is due to changes in natural forests which are generally rich in biodiversity.
- The report doesn’t specify what percentage of change in area is due to commercial plantation and what percentage is contributed by horticulture or urban parks.
- Need to define ‘natural forest’: What will be of most concern to forest and biodiversity conservation is to understand the status of natural forest and biodiversity.
- India can use the same definition of forests but must estimate and report the area under natural forests and other forest plantation categories.
- India needs to define ‘natural forests’ first, further, this would involve additional staff time and resources.
- The resilience of natural forests to forest fires: Tropical forests rich in biodiversity are likely to be more resilient than monoculture dominated plantations or exotics.
- Vulnerability to forest fires varies from forests to forests: Studies by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have shown that degraded forests, fragmented forests and biodiversity-poor forests are more vulnerable to climate change.
Climate change and its impacts
- IPCC reports on large scale loss: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports have repeatedly concluded that climate change will lead to large-scale loss of biodiversity, before the end of the current century or even earlier.
- Modelling studies by IISc.: Preliminary modelling studies by Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have shown that about 20% of forests will be impacted by climate change.
- No change to adapt: The modelling studies means that existing forest biodiversity and its structure and composition will not be able to adapt to the new climate and there could be mortality or forest dieback.
- The threat of forest fires: Further, warming, drought and El Niño will lead to increased forest fires, and may even be favourable to forest pests.
- Unfortunately, the models currently in use for assessing the impact of climate change are not suitable for the complex and highly diverse forest types that exist in India.
- Given that global warming will continue, India will have to brace itself to adapt to the impending impacts. In India, there is very limited research on climate change and its impacts on forests, putting our famed biodiversity-rich country status under threat.
- India needs to realistically assess, monitor and model climate change and its impacts and be prepared to adapt to impending climate change.