India lost 2.33 million hectares of tree cover since 2000: Report

Representational image.

New Delhi: India has lost 2.33 million hectares of tree cover since 2000, equivalent to a six per cent decrease in tree cover during this period, according to the latest data from the Global Forest Watch monitoring project.

The Global Forest Watch, which tracks forest changes in near real-time using satellite data and other sources, said the country lost 4,14,000 hectares of humid primary forest (4.1 per cent) from 2002 to 2023, making up 18 per cent of its total tree cover loss in the same period.

Between 2001 and 2022, it said, forests in India emitted 51 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year and removed 141 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year. This represents a net carbon sink of 89.9 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.

An average of 51.0 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year was released into the atmosphere as a result of tree cover loss in India. In total, 1.12 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent was emitted during this period.

Forests are both a sink and a source of carbon, removing carbon dioxide from the air when standing or regrowing and emitting it when cleared or degraded. The loss of forests, thus, accelerates climate change.

Tree cover loss is not always deforestation, which typically refers to human-caused, permanent removal of natural forest cover. It includes both human-caused loss and natural disturbances, and loss that is permanent or temporary. Examples of tree cover loss that may not meet the definition of deforestation include loss from logging, fire, disease or storm damage.

The data showed that 95 per cent of the tree cover loss in India from 2013 to 2023 occurred within natural forests.

The maximum tree cover loss of 189,000 hectares occurred in 2017. The country lost 175,000 hectares of tree cover in 2016 and 144,000 hectares in 2023, the highest in the last six years.

The GFW data showed that five states accounted for 60 per cent of all tree cover loss between 2001 and 2023.

Assam had the maximum tree cover loss at 324,000 hectares compared to an average of 66,600 hectares. Mizoram lost 312,000 hectares of tree cover, Arunachal Pradesh 262,000 hectares, Nagaland 259,000 hectares, and Manipur 240,000 hectares.

The tree cover loss data featured on the Global Forest Watch represents the best available spatial figures on how forests are changing around the world. However, changes have occurred to the data over time due to algorithm adjustments and improved satellite data. Therefore, the GFW cautions users against comparing old and new data, especially before/after 2015.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the rate of deforestation in India was 668,000 hectares per year between 2015 and 2020, the second highest worldwide.

The data showed India lost 35,900 hectares of tree cover due to fires from 2002 to 2022, with 2008 recording the maximum tree cover loss due to fires (3,000 hectares).

From 2001 to 2022, Odisha had the highest rate of tree cover loss due to fires with an average of 238 hectares lost per year. Arunachal Pradesh lost 198 hectares, Nagaland 195 hectares, Assam 116 hectares, and Meghalaya 97 hectares.

The Global Forest Watch refers to tree cover when talking about forest extent, loss and gain. Tree cover is a convenient metric for monitoring forest change because it is easily measurable from space using freely available, medium-resolution satellite imagery. This means that tree cover can be monitored frequently, at low cost, and over large geographic scales.

However, the existence of tree cover does not always make a forest, tree cover loss does not always imply forest loss or deforestation, and tree cover gain does not always imply forest gain or restoration.

Measuring these variables directly poses technical challenges since most definitions of forest involve a combination of tree cover and land use. The latter is much more difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to monitor using satellite imagery, the GFW says.

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