India’s varied forest habitat is a giant tinderbox that can release vast amounts of carbon dioxide, imperilling lives and livelihoods. But, if safeguarded and thoughtfully expanded, these very forests could be vital in slowing down the world’s warming by drawing down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. In combating wildfires, we can no longer continue to ignore the critical role of our allies — the forest dwellers and tribal communities.
Inaction on forest fires would have grave consequences for the country. In 2021 alone, large blazes in Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha and Uttarakhand destroyed ecosystems of species from the microscopic to the magnificent, releasing thousands of tonnes of carbon. This trend is increasing across our planet — a new UN report describes a “global wildfire crisis” primarily because of climate change. In India, data on this issue — and forest cover more broadly — are either scarce or sketchy and will be critical to guiding decision-making.