Over 1.6 billion people’s livelihood depends on forests. In addition, 750 million people live in forests, including 60 million indigenous people. Yet, we are losing them. Between 1990 and 2020, the world lost some 178 million hectares of forest, an area the size of Libya. When we take away the forest, it is not just the trees that go. The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart, with dire consequences for all of us.
They absorb harmful greenhouse gasses that produce climate change. Forests are estimated to have removed an average of 2 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year since 2000. Often referred to as the ‘carbon sink function’, where the uptake, or removal of carbon from the atmosphere, exceeds the amount of carbon released. This process mitigates climate change by reducing the rate at which carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel burning, builds up in the atmosphere. In tropical forests alone, a quarter of a trillion tons of carbon is stored in above and below-ground biomass. It also serves as a buffer during natural disasters like floods.
Forests are pivotal in addressing environmental concerns and ensuring economic progress and social development. Together, these factors underpin the fact we must conserve our forests to maintain a healthy, sustainable environment for future generations. Simply put, they are our source of life, and we cannot afford to lose them.
In situations like these, India has fared exceptionally well. The Forest Survey of India defines ‘forest cover’ as all lands of a hectare or more with tree patches with a canopy density of more than 10 per cent. In the past two years alone, India’s forest and tree cover rose by 2,261 square kilometres, the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) said. The total forest and tree cover is now 80.9 million hectares which is 24.62 per cent of the geographical area. The top five states in terms of increase in forest cover are Andhra Pradesh (647 sq km), Telangana (632 sq km), Odisha (537 sq km), and Karnataka (155 sq km) and Jharkhand (110 sq km).
We tend to take forests for granted, underestimating how indispensable they still are for everyone on the planet. That would quickly change if they all disappeared, but since humanity might not survive that scenario, the lesson wouldn’t be very useful by then.