Jungle fires in Australia

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

Australia is suffering from major bush fires in 2019 leaving behind 20 Million of acres burnt, more than 25 people dead and thousands homeless. According to the World Economic Forum, 2019 has been Australia’s driest and hottest summer with a 1.5°C rise from the previous years.

Burning at a very fast rate and destroying an area the size of South Korea, 2 times the size of Belgium and creating a plume of smoke of the size of Europe, the fire has killed more than 1 billion animals making the rate high with regards to worst mammal extinction and listing among the 7 countries for biodiversity loss with spewing ⅔ of National Annual CO₂ emission.

Causes of severe bushfires:

The catastrophic bushfire season has caused mainly because of the,

  • Severe Heat and Drought
  • Lightning Strikes
  • Drier vegetation and fuel
  • Positive Indian Ocean Dipole
  • Greenhouse emission gases

Response of the Australian Government

Initially when the fires started in late July, 2019 the Australian govt. did not take major steps in minimizing the fires even when the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was being criticized by major ecologists and environmentalists globally. Later, govt. proposed a national review into the response to the disaster.

Receiving its lowest ever rainfall and New South Wales battling its worst fire season in atleast 20 years, the govt. has set up 50M AUD fund to rescue and protect the wildlife affected by the fires into which half of the fund would be used on advice from the panel of experts led by threatened species commissioner and rest for the support of wildlife rescue.

The govt has also listed out immediate priorities:

  • Rehabilating injured wildlife
  • Securing species and mapping damages
  • Working with landowners to protect unburnt areas.

Despite substantial loss to property and wildlife, firefighters have managed to save 16,000 structures which could be directly affected by fire impact. Staff of NSW National Park launched Operation Rock Wallaby and used choppers to drop food, mostly carrots and sweet potatoes to the stranded colonies and more than 4000 pounds has already been dropped with more than 2000 pound of food being sent to areas of Yengo National Park and about 200 pounds of food and water dropped in Kangaroo Valley as well.

Teams of IFAW have started detecting live Koalas with the help of dogs who can track them by the scent of their fur. However, it is expected by the end of the fires, the govt might declare Koalas as endangered species as stated by Environment Minister Sussan Ley.  Shockingly, in the past, 5000 camels were shot dead for drinking too much water in drought hit areas in a five day operation in Southern Australia.

Interestingly, Morrison govt. in January, 2020 announced that it would lease 4 water bombing planes for use by the govt. in the fires and Army, Navy and Air force started conducting night fire mapping, assessment and search and rescue operations.

Though the govt. is not taking the requisite steps, WWF Australia has launched a campaign with a 10 year target to grow 1.56 billion trees and save more than 780 million trees naming the campaign “Towards Two Billion Trees” to aid bushfire recovery at the earliest.

International conventions regarding forest fires

The most important and potentially for the welfare of the forests is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa (UNCCD). These three conventions, together with seven other multilateral agreements discuses the role of forests, functions, and certain important aspects.

Climate Change Convention1992
Convention on Biological Diversity1992
Desertification Convention1994
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands1971
World Heritage Convention1972
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species1973
Ozone Layer Convention1985
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention1989
International Tropical Timber Agreement1994
World Trade Organization1994

Global reaction

After criticizing the Australian PM, globally notable environmentalists, actors, and other countries have taken part in curbing the fires through raising awareness and donations periodically.

WWF has raised a quarter million AUD in just 48 hours of its start of campaign around the world, whereas Australian billionaire mining magnate, Andrew Forrest pledged 48 Billion $ for the relief. NGOs like Earth Alliance have also raised another 3M $.

Another organization FairFax county in Northern Virginia which is home to 1.8 lakh students implemented “Civic Engagement Activities” where students can skip a day in the school year calendar for the protests, students took protests on streets and raised slogans and awareness regarding the climate change and its effects.

Many countries have took part in the bushfires through deploying firefighters or donating for the cause –

Conclusion: Way forward

Forests are among the most productive land base ecosystems and are essential for the productivity and sustainability among the landowners near forest areas. In order to protect them, many countries have taken part in the development and conservation of the forests. In spite of all the objectives and set goals, increasing global warming and climate changes have affected forests in large fires causing mass destruction to life and property of humans and killing of endangered species in large number.

Australia faces bushfires every summer season, but, due to the high rise in the global warming and heat causing severe drought and rise in the temperature have made the fires more intense and out of control. Awareness among public through social media, newspapers, donations from unions, banks, personalities, support by various countries, goals set by conventions, unions and NGOs has been taken up.

Notable author, Robert Swan has rightly said, “The biggest threat to our planet is believing that someone else will save it”.

Author: Gaurav Sanghi from Amity University, Rajasthan.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

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

Reading time: 4-5 minutes.

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.