Amazon rainforest on fire: What is all the outrage about?

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The forest fires that broke out in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil are still ablaze. Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest tropical forest and it is facing one of the worst forest fires in history, for about four weeks now.

The number of forest fires in Brazil this year are recorded to be the highest since the year 2010, as reported by NASA. Brazil’s space research center has detected more than 80,000 fires in the country, which is said to be a dangerous sign.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported that at least 74,000 fires have already occurred in the Amazon this year so far. The Amazon forest fires are so grave in nature that it is claimed by space agencies that the smoke of the fire is even visible from the space.

To support such claims there are several images of the smoke captured from the International Space Center that are being circulated worldwide. The BBC reported last Friday that in a 48-hour period, leading up to Thursday, there were more than 2,500 active fires in the Brazilian rainforest.

International outrage: What, why and how much?

Since there was no media reporting of the issue initially even it being of such important nature, there was an international outrage. People from across the globe started sharing over social media platforms about the issue. Soon enough the hashtags like #ActForTheAmazon, #PrayforAmazonas, #AmazonRainforest all started trending.

Thereafter, in no time, this issue became international news. In fact, many twitter users even criticized the media for giving a lot of importance to Notre Dame church fire and not giving the due importance as compared to that to the Amazon Rainforest fires.

Social media users around the globe also lashed out and called out the world billionaires for not donating for the cause. Tim Cook appeared as the first tech company CEO who responded to the cause and offered an aid. Activists even protested outside the Brazilian Consulate and even occupied Brazilian embassy to show their rage.

What is the history of forest fires in Brazil?

Wildfires in Brazil often occur in the dry season. But recently, Brazilian government claimed these fires are deliberately started by some NGOs in order to illegally clear land for cattle ranching.

According to reports of INPE (space research organisation of Brazil), it had detected more than 74,000 fires between January and August which is claimed to be the highest number on records since it began in 2013. It also said that there are more than 40,000 fires in the same period as compared to 2018. Although, till now it was said that 2016 was the worst year for forest fires as it had recorded 68,000 fires in that period.

What is the international law involed?

There are several laws, organizations and treaties at the international level which are concerned with either management and tackling of forest fires directly or in a way deal with the conservation and management of forests and thus indirectly also put up certain guidelines for handling of such forest fires. Some of the such international-level steps are:

  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Ministerial Meeting on Forests called upon the FAO to develop the Strategy to Enhance International Cooperation on Fire Management.
  • UN resolutions and its statements on forest fires and importance of forests for present as well future generation.
  • Conventions on transboundary pollution.
  • General principles in International Environmental Law.
  • FAO has also developed an ‘International Wildlife Fire Management Agreements Template’.
  • Agreement on Joint Control of Forest Fire between China and Russia.

What are the major policies for forest conservation in India?

On national level, in India, there are several legislations and policies for the conservation of forests. Per se, there have been three major policy announcements on forests and its conservation in India:

  • The forest policy of 1952: It was formulated as there was a need for reorientation of forest policy in light of the changes that had taken place since the implementation of the 1894 policy on forests.
  • The National Commission on Agriculture, 1976: It stated that “there should be a change over from the conservation-oriented forestry to a more dynamic program of production forestry.”
  • The Forest Policy, 1988: It represented a major paradigm shift from the earlier policies and this shift began to take some shape through the introduction of Joint Forest Management in India in 1990.

In addition to these policies, there have been certain laws as well governing the conservation of forests in India:

  • Forest Conservation Act, 1980
  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
  • Indian Forest Act, 1927
  • The Forest Policy of 1988 and Joint Forest Management

The way forward…

The Amazon rainforest is an important and integral part of the earth which plays a very pivotal role in the global climatic conditions. Such large-scale forest fires will result in a devastation as well as degradation of world environment and climate at large.

Losing the Amazon rainforest will not only have harmful global consequences but such consequences will also be irreversible in nature. The loss of forest can result into severe changes in the climatic conditions, climate and weather patterns. There would also be a decline in the absorption of carbon, which is necessary for earth’s survival, and one of the most important functions of the Amazon rainforests.

Thus, it is important for everyone to contribute their bit, be it on individual level, community level, national level or international level for the protection of this rainforest, famously known as ‘lungs of Earth’. There are certain ways in which one can help to save the Amazon rainforest:

  • Donations can be made to Rainforest Action Network.
  • Donations to Rainforest Trust could be made.
  • Reduction in paper and wood consumption.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Aprajita Jha from National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.

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