Wildfires Worsen Climate Change and Will Increase Because of It

A report from the UN Environment Programme and GRID-Arendal calls on governments to adopt a “fire-ready formula” to minimize risks and support recovery from wildfires. Fires are becoming both more frequent and more intense, with extreme fires projects to increase by 50% between now and 2100.

The report titled, ‘Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires,’ finds that both climate change and land-use change are contributing to this trend, which is expected to increase globally – even in areas previously unaffected, such as the Arctic. Wildfires and climate change are circular in their causes, as fires contribute significant greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and thus exacerbate climate change. Climate change is also worsened as peatlands and rainforests become “tinderboxes” rather than helping to slow temperature rise.

Other effects of wildfires include: respiratory and cardiovascular impacts caused by inhaling wildfire smoke; economic costs to rebuild, which can be beyond the means of low-income countries; the degrading of watersheds by wildfires’ pollutants; and contaminated wastes being left behind.

The authors report that extreme fires are projected to increase up to 14% by 2030, 30% by 2050, and 50% by 2100. In this context, it recommends a radical change in government spending, to shift investments to prevention instead of response. By the proposed ‘Fire Ready Formula’ governments would devote two-thirds of their spending to prevention – which currently receives less than 1% – and one third to response.

The report also calls for stronger international standards for firefighter health and safety.

The report was released ahead of the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) which recently concluded in Nairobi, Kenya. UNEP and GRID-Arendal produced the report in support of UNREDD and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).

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