Growing incidence of forest wildfires demands ambitious climate action now
27 August 2020 – Persistent hotter and drier weather due to climate change and deforestation caused primarily by land conversation for agriculture are the main drivers causing unprecedented wildfires worldwide. As of April, fire alerts across the globe were up by 13% compared to last year – already a record year for fires.
Humans are responsible for at least 75% of all wildfires. If current trends continue, there will be devastating long-term consequences due to the release of millions of extra tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to a new report, ‘Fires, Forests, and the Future: A crisis raging out of control’. This is in addition to the immediate impacts decimating biodiversity, destroying vital ecosystems, threatening lives, property and livelihoods, and economies, along with the risk of severe long-term health problems for millions around the world.
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Global Leader for Climate & Energy at WWF said: “The very significant consequences of these fires provide even more reason for governments to raise their ambition on climate action, and they have at least two key opportunities to do so.
“First, countries must ensure must submit ambitious national climate and emission reduction plans (called Nationally Determined Contributions NDCs) to the UN this year. These must raise climate ambition worldwide and improve Paris Agreement accounting for emissions from ‘non-anthropogenic’ fires.
Second, governments must ensure their NDCs are fully embedded in any economic recovery plans being approved to counter the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Finally, and equally important, we need to see more action from governments, companies and consumers to reduce emissions and halt deforestation.”
The report, co-authored by WWF and BCG, takes a deeper dive into fire trends and what they mean for people and the planet, and sets out some recommendations to address the key causes. It warns that fire seasons are getting longer, and extreme forest fires more common, with 2020 set to see an even worse wildfire season than last year.
Already, the latest fire seasons have been raging with unprecedented ferocity, from the Amazon to the Arctic. In April this year, the number of fire alerts across the globe were up by 13% compared to last year, which was already a record year for fires.Persistent hotter and drier weather due to climate change and deforestation caused primarily by land conversion for agriculture are the main drivers.
If current trends continue, there will be devastating long-term consequences due to the release of millions of extra tonnes of carbon, and fires will decimate biodiversity, destroy vital ecosystems, impact economies, threaten property and livelihoods, and cause severe long-term health problems for millions around the world.
Fran Price, Global Leader for Forests Lead at WWF said: “The world witnessed the devastating consequences of the fires last year, from billions of wildlife lost and people losing their homes and livelihoods, not to mention the impact on climate. Proactivity and commitment must be at the heart of a global response to fires that must play out at local, sub-national, national and regional levels. Preventing fires before they occur is paramount, and far preferable in all respects to suppressing them when they’re burning. Meanwhile, good intentions on paper mean nothing if they’re not followed up with real and effective actions on the ground – and these actions need to focus on forests, where the fire crisis is at its worst.”
Jesper Nielsen, Managing Director and Senior Partner at BCG, said: “The time has never been more critical for climate action. At least 75% of fires are due to human activities. Climate change is largely contributing to this worsening situation. As fires also reinforce global warming, a vicious circle is taking place that needs to be broken. A better focus on prevention and protection measures, especially for forests, is certainly part of the answer. Governments and businesses need to put together a coordinated global response in line with the importance and urgency of the fires issue, before there is irreversible damage for our planet.”
Click here to review the report which takes a deeper dive into fire trends and what they mean for people and the planet, and sets out some recommendations to address the key causes.