India lost 14% tree cover amid Covid, rainforest destruction up 12% in 2020

The total tropical forest area in India fell by 0.38 per cent. (Shutterstock)
Tropical forests across the world were destroyed at an alarming rate in 2020, despite the raging Coronavirus and the lockdowns as natural forces took over. India lost nearly 38.5 thousand hectares (Kha) of tropical forest between 2019 and 2020 making up nearly 14 per cent loss of its tree cover.

Meanwhile, the total tropical forest area in India fell by 0.38 per cent.

The new observations have been made by the Global Forest Watch, a worldwide platform that monitors forests and provides information on changing patterns globally as part of the World Resources Institute. The new report comes on the heels of the Centre’s recent response in Parliament stating that India’s forest cover is continuously increasing and it has reached 24.56 per cent of the geographical area of the country.

The organisation also recorded a 0.67 per cent decrease in tree cover across the country in the same period. Meanwhile, in the last decade, the country has seen a 16 per cent loss in forest cover with 223 Kha of tropical forest being lost to several human activities, primary among them deforestation.

Mizoram had the most tree cover loss at 47.2 Kha compared to an average of 7.40 Kha. (Shutterstock)

Mizoram has witnessed the biggest decline in forest area with a loss of 47.2 Kha in the last year, followed by Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland. “In India, the top four regions were responsible for 52 per cent of all tree cover loss between 2019 and 2020. Mizoram had the most tree cover loss at 47.2 Kha compared to an average of 7.40 Kha,” the organisation said.

At the start of the 21st century, 11 per cent of Indian land consisted of forest areas which gradually declined to 9.9 per cent by 2010. Meanwhile, 3.13 million hectares was identified as plantations and the 281 Mha area was recognised as non-forest a decade ago.

One of the primary reasons for the loss of forest cover has been fires, caused due to changing weather patterns. With the peak fire season beginning in early March in India, there were 21,312 alerts between March 2020 and March 2021. The alerts were significantly high in March this year with 3,308 incidents as compared to 1,004 in the corresponding month of 2019.

India released 742 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere between 2001 and 2020 equivalent to 37.1 Mt annually as its organic carbon density fell to 19.2 Gtc from 43.4 Ktc per hectare in 2000.  

Australia witnessed one of the worst wildfires in the beginning of 2020. (Shutterstock)

Global trends worrying

Globally, there has been a 12 per cent increase in loss of tropical rainforest in 2020 from 2019, according to the World Resources Institute and putting plans of lowering global temperatures at risk. The resulting carbon emissions from this primary forest loss (2.64 Gt CO2) are equivalent to the annual emissions of 570 million cars, more than double the number of cars on the road.

Brazil once again topped the list for annual primary forest loss with a total loss of 1.7 million hectares in 2020, more than three times the next-highest country.

Primary forest loss in Brazil increased by 25 per cent in 2020 compared to the year before. The tree cover in the last decade has dipped by 6.4 per cent per cent with Russia leading the list of most affected countries.    

"In 2010, the world had 3.92 Global Hectare (Gha) of tree cover, extending over 30 per cent of its land area. In 2020, it lost 25.8 Mha of tree cover," the Institute observed.

One of the primary reasons for the loss of forest cover has been fires, caused due to changing weather patterns. (Shutterstock)

Meanwhile, amid the growing pressure on developed countries to reduce carbon emission and move towards renewable sources of energy, the Institute maintained that Russia, US, China are among the biggest contributors to global emission.

Scientists fear that fires and associated emissions may increase in the future as climate change and further deforestation dry out forests and make them more vulnerable to fire. The resulting positive feedback loop could potentially transform the Amazon into a savannah.

While forest loss declined in Malaysia for the fourth year in a row, the country has lost nearly a fifth of its primary forest since 2001.


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