India’s commitment to sustainable development is clearly demonstrated through its innovative and progressive forest policies. The Government’s policy of incentivising state governments to improve their forest cover is evident in the 14th Finance Commission’s allocation of 7.5% of total revenues on the basis of the state’s forest cover. This makes India the implementer of the world’s largest Payment for Environmental Services scheme.
Over the last few years, the forest and tree cover in the country has been steadily increasing, and at present, it stands at 24.16% of the total geographic area. This affirms that sustainable forest management and long-term thinking about natural assets are foundations for strong and sustained growth. This is not to say that there are no challenges. Forest fires are a leading cause of forest degradation in India, and the current pattern of widespread and frequent fires could make it more difficult for India to meet its long-term goal of bringing 33% of its geographical area under forest & tree cover and to achieve its international commitment to create additional carbon sinks of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tons worth of CO2 equivalent by 2030.
Recognizing the challenge of forest fires in India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the World Bank co-organized an international workshop on Forest Fire Prevention and Management from November 1 to 3, 2017. The discussion benefitted from the perspectives of government officials from India, researchers, experts and representatives from Australia, Belarus, Canada, Mexico, Nepal, the United States of America, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This workshop served as an opportunity for knowledge exchange to help India devise a robust strategy to tackle the challenge of forest fires. It was also an opportunity for Indian states to share good practices with each other, and with countries from around the world, and to learn from other countries.