Introduction: Status and trends in forest area:
Forest ecosystems are a critical component of the world’s biodiversity as many forests are more biodiverse than other ecosystems.
Forests cover 31 percent of the global land area. Approximately half the forest area is relatively intact, and more than one-third is primary forest (i.e. naturally regenerated forests of native species).
More than half of the world’s forests are found in only five countries (the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China) and two-thirds (66 percent) of forests are found in ten countries.
Building and maintaining activities help to improve ecological functions, productivity and create resilient forests with multifarious capabilities.
Forests in protected areas:
- Covering nearly 30% land surface of the earth, forests around the globe provide a wide variety of ecosystem services and support countless and diverse species.
- They also stabilise the climate, sequester carbon and regulate the water regime.
- The State of the World’s Forests report 2020, says that since 1990, around 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through deforestation, conversion and land degradation.
- Globally, 18 percent of the world’s forest area fall within legally established protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas and game reserves (IUCN categories I-IV).
- Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 (to protect at least 17 percent of terrestrial area by 2020) has thus been exceeded for forest ecosystems as a whole. However, these areas are not yet fully representative of the diversity of forest ecosystems.
Situation of forests in India:
- Nearly 5.03% of Indian forests are under protection area (PA) management needing specific restoration strategies.
- The remaining areas witness a range of disturbances including grazing, encroachment, fire, and climate change impacts that need area-specific considerations.
- Further, much of the research done so far on restoration is not fully compatible with India’s diverse ecological habitats hence warranting due consideration of local factors.
- The relevance of local research duly considering ecological aspects, local disturbances and forest-dependent communities is vital to formulate guidelines for locally suitable interventions and to meet India’s global commitment.
- Though India’s increasing economic growth is helping to eliminate poverty, there is continued degradation and a growing scarcity of natural resources.
- The intricate link between poverty and environmental degradation was first highlighted by India at the first UN global conference on the human environment in Stockholm.
- Out of its 21.9% population living under the poverty line, nearly 275 million people including local tribals depend on the forest for subsistence.
Key challenges: without considering Local Ecology:
- Local ecology with a research base: forest restoration and tree planting are leading strategies to fight global warming by way of carbon sequestration.
- However, planting without considering the local ecology can result in more damage. Similarly, planting a forest in the wrong places such as savannah grasslands could be disastrous for local biodiversity.
- Therefore, it is fundamental to consider the local ecology before implementing any restoration efforts to retain their biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
- Restoration, being a scientific activity, needs research support for its success.
- Dependence on forests by nearly 18% of the global human population has put immense pressure on ecosystems; in India, this has resulted in the degradation of 41% of its forests.
- To combat this, India joined the Bonn Challenge with a pledge to restore 21 MHA of degraded and deforested land which was later revised to 26 MHA to be restored by 2030.
- The first-ever country progress report under the Bonn Challenge submitted by India by bringing 9.8 million hectares since 2011 under restoration is an achievement.
- However, continued degradation and deforestation need to be tackled effectively to achieve the remaining target of restoration by addressing various challenges.
- Being less tech-sensitive, cost-effective and conserving more biodiversity, natural forest restoration is becoming more widely accepted.
- The active approach of restoration which includes tree planting and the involvement of communities seeks incentives and rewards and make the whole affair quite cost-intensive.
- The contribution of corporates in restoration efforts so far has been limited to 2% of the total achievement.
Conservation and sustainable use of forests and forest biodiversity:
- There are ways to manage the world’s forest ecosystems that will ensure the conservation and sustainable use of their biodiversity.
- Creation of protected areas has historically been the forest governance instrument most often adopted to pursue biodiversity objectives.
- This approach has achieved positive results in terms of conserving species and establishing barriers to the progress of deforestation.
- Natural reserves alone are not sufficient to conserve biodiversity. They are usually too small, create barriers to species migration and are vulnerable to factors such as climate change.
- Additionally, protected areas contain only a fraction of existing forest biodiversity.
- This means that there is a need to look beyond protected areas and to mainstream biodiversity conservation into forest management practices.
- A realistic balance between conservation goals and local needs and demands for resources that support livelihoods and well-being must be struck.
- This requires effective governance; integrated policies for interrelated issues; land-tenure security;
- Respect for the rights and knowledge of local communities and indigenous peoples; and enhanced capacity for monitoring of biodiversity outcomes. It also requires innovative financing modalities.
The conservation and sustainable management of forests within an integrated landscape approach is key to the conservation of the world’s biodiversity and to food security and well-being of the world’s people.
Active engagement of stakeholders including non-governmental organisations, awareness and capacity building of stakeholders with enabling policy interventions and finance can help a lot to achieve the remaining 16 MHA restoration objectives for India.
The need of the hour is an inclusive approach encompassing these concerns with the required wherewithal.