Climate change caused forest cover in India to decline dramatically from 2001 to 2018, a recent study by researchers at the University of Reading shows.
With tropical and subtropical forests accounting for over 20 percent of its land cover, India is among the top 10 countries with the largest forest areas. It is also home to eight percent of global biodiversity, including 47,000 plants and 89,000 animals. Therefore, understanding why India’s forests are shrinking so rapidly is a matter of urgency.
“The rapid climate changes we have observed suggest that forest loss in India could be much worse than feared in the coming decades, as deforestation is only part of the problem. The observed high reduction rates are also of concern for biodiversity as India relies on contiguous forests for wildlife protection,” says lead author Alice Haughan.
In the first nationwide study of its kind, scientists discovered that precipitation and temperature contributed to forest loss over the 17-year period. This contradicts official reports, which suggest that forests are declining at a slower pace than found in this study.
Researchers used a new metric to measure shifts associated with climate change that accounts for variations across different time and space scales. These “climate speeds” helped them realize that the north-eastern region of India has suffered the greatest loss of forest. In addition, they found that in most regions, climate change-induced forest loss was attributed to either precipitation or temperature, but rarely both.
Despite these findings, climate change is only the secondary cause of forest loss in India; The conversion of landscapes by humans for their own purposes is still the main cause.
According to Haughan, “India has experienced dramatic forest loss in recent decades, with land-use change to accommodate crops, livestock and a growing population cited as causes. While the contribution of land-use change to forest loss has been extensively studied, little attention has been paid to the role of climate change in recent declines.”