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Forest Fires: Curating a Response through India’s G20 Presidency

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 Dr. K Ravichandran

Forest fires have become more widespread and intense over the past few decades, causing significant damage to critical global carbon sink regions like Canada’s boreal forests and Brazil’s Amazonian rainforests. A new study by the University of Marlyland found that forest fires now result in 3 million more hectares of tree cover loss per year compared to 2001, accounting for over a quarter of all tree cover loss over the past 20 years. This alarming increase in fire frequency, intensity, and geographical spread has led to concerns about the impact on ecosystems and the potential for human activities.

Climate change has led to a surge in fire activity, with extreme heat waves five times more frequent than 150 years ago. This dehydration of landscapes creates an ideal environment for larger forest fires, resulting in increased emissions and intensifying the impact of climate change. The dehydration of landscapes also contributes to the deforestation caused by climate change.

The India Story

India has responded to the increasing number of global forest fires by enhancing its forest fire monitoring systems. With 25% of India’s forests highly vulnerable to fires, only about 3% of tree cover loss is due to forest fires. The Forest Survey of India has developed the Van Agni Geo-portal to provide a user-friendly interactive viewing of forest fire-related data for continuous monitoring and tracking of large fires in near real-time. The portal will serve as a single point source for information related to forest fires in India. Forest fire management will soon be under the purview of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), ensuring efficient real-time management of forest fires.

Besides technological and regulatory upgradation the authorities are adopting collective action tools to effectively improve forest fire management tactics. Joint Forest Management (JFM) has been used to involve local communities in the prevention and management of forest fires. JFM committees have been set – up at the village level across the country to escalate protection and conservation activities. Currently there are 36,165 JFM committees throughout the country, covering an area of more than 10.24 million hectares.

Community-based fire management practices are gaining popularity in various regions of India, including Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka. These practices involve community involvement and capacity building through awareness programs, street plays, door-to-door campaigns, fire control rooms, and watch towers. The forest department experienced a decrease in alerts by over 5% within a year, and the burnt area from forest fires decreased by over 58%. In the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, the restoration of forest fire-impacted areas has been well-managed, with soil-safe degraded plantation removal practices and efficient bundling of plantation species and adult trees. This has significantly increased biodiversity density within 12-18 months.

India is preparing to tackle forest fire management in light of the harsh weather conditions and weather events. Respecting India’s traditional forest fire control and its effectiveness, India is constantly promoting and embracing its traditional expertise, resulting in a reduction in forest fires and losses. India encourages community-based forest fire management, relying on the strength of the local community to respond to forest fires as soon as possible. Inclusion of modern technology, such as a fire alert system, GPS tracked forest fire management and restoration etc., to assist field managers in managing preventive action and post-fire management decision making, which further reduces fore events and associated losses.

Importance of the G20

Keeping the looming danger of forest fire-based impact on climate change in mind, the India presidency at the G20 summit this year launched the ‘Gandhinagar Implementation Roadmap (GIR) and Gandhinagar Information Platform (GIP)’ for strengthening the G20 Global Land Initiative. The roadmap aims to enhance mutual collaboration among participating countries to accelerate ecological/ ecosystem restoration of the Forest fire-impacted areas and mining-affected areas.

This is an unique effort initiated by the Indian presidency. G20 members have an innate understanding that to solve the climate crises largescale collective action efforts will have to be undertaken and shared effectively across the global landscape to make the sustainability transition a possibility. The imperative nature of the GIP-GIR initiative is that it will strategically look at active implementation of sustainable forestry practices coupled with community involvement and indigenous knowledge sharing & techniques. This will not only help strengthen sustainability based cooperative relations between different countries, but will also help improve the critical flow of knowledge that can help scale up crucial restoration-based activities.

The writer is Director, IIFM

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