Global forests and ecology in peril

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Global forests and ecology in peril

Thursday, 09 January 2020 | Kota Sriraj

As the going gets tough for the world’s ‘green assets’, it is being predicted that the Amazon rain forests are now the most threatened with a projected loss of 48 million hectares by 2030

The ongoing bush and forest fires in Australia are presenting a daunting challenge to the authorities and are proving to be a painful and tragic end for the wildlife affected by the blaze. This countrywide catastrophe, mainly caused by drought and extreme heat, has so far claimed 24 lives, destroyed 18 million acres of forest and bushland and has also consumed 1,200 homes.

However, the brunt of the fires has been borne by the wildlife and approximately half a billion animal lives have been lost. Australia is not new to bush fires but this season’s blaze has been anything but predictable and bearable, as the scale has hit astonishing levels.

The spectre of climate change in the form of global warming is transforming the definition of natural disasters as rising temperatures, droughts and strong winds become a lethal combination of fanning even the smallest of a bush fire into a countrywide inferno.

This is evident in Australia’s case as well because this year saw the mid-December temperatures going as high as 42 degree Celsius in the midst of winds that were recording speeds of 120 kmph.

Yet another aspect, which precipitated this disaster in Australia was the fact that the country witnessed its driest spring season in the last 120 years and this rendered the bushland, forests and grasslands dry and fit for a blaze.

The 2019 Amazon forest fires, too, were an unfortunate occurrence as they saw over 906,000 hectares of prime forest land — that was rich in ecology and wildlife — being burnt to cinder.

Here, too, the role of man cannot be ruled out, as every year, the countries bordering the forest areas of the Amazon rain forest illegally slash and burn the woodland to clear land for agriculture and habitation. These countries are unable to take strict action to stop this practice and as a result, sometimes this clearing process gets out of hand and unfortunately results in mega-disaster events.

Amazon forests, considered the world’s largest terrestrial carbon sink, are now at peril, too, thanks to climate change and anthropogenic activities.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Global Land Outlook report, 70 per cent of the global forests are at peril thanks to deforestation and man-made disasters such as forest fires. The report states that tropical jungles are at the highest risk and to illustrate the point the report presents a staggering fact that nearly 5.5 million hectares of rich forestland disappeared annually between 2010-2015.

As the going gets tough for the world’s “green assets”, it is being further predicted that the Amazon rain forests are now the most threatened with a projected loss of 48 million hectares by 2030. The inability of mankind to take care of nature and safeguard the precious natural resources is very unsettling.

India, too, has good forest wealth but, some years ago, that also came under threat as hundreds of acres of valuable forests in Uttarakhand’s Himalayan foothills became a casualty of tremendous fires.

The callous selfishness of human actions is leading to spiralling temperatures, which in turn are making the flora and fauna’s survival difficult. Add to these woes are the afforestation efforts which are progressing at snail’s pace. All this means that we are compromising those very carbon sinks that can have a major role in climate change mitigation.

In the wake of these global forest fire episodes, the world environmental community must introspect to find a lasting solution to safeguard nature’s assets from these recurrent disasters.

In this regard, it becomes clear that the global community lost a great opportunity at the recently-concluded UN Climate Change Conference COP 25, to put in place systems and checks that can play a pivotal role in preserving the global green canopy.

The forests are the last remaining barriers between mankind and the consequences of climate change. They need to be treated as a national priority and be accorded sufficient protection. The strict and non-negotiable segregation of habited areas and forests is probably the first step towards forest conservation.

In addition to this, the forest protection laws that are currently lax and implemented even more poorly need to be overhauled so that woodland protection becomes a serious matter.

In India, too, the forest department is woefully understaffed and ill-trained to protect these precious resources. All these aspects must change if India and the world want to keep whatever forests are still left.

This must be done expeditiously before it is too late to undo the damage, else man will have to pay a heavy price for this indiscriminate and mindless pillage of natural wealth and future generations will pay for our crimes against nature.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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