A report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says climate change will fuel an increase in wildfires in coming decades. The report warns that if preventive measures are not taken, the fires will damage environments, human health, and economies.
The report, released Wednesday ahead of the 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly to be held in Nairobi next week, says climate change and how people use land are expected to increase wildfires globally by 50 percent by 2100.
“Most regions experience weather conditions that are conducive to the outbreak of a wildfire at some point in the year,” said Andrew Sullivan, a bushfire researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
“Uncontrollable and devastating wildfires are becoming an expected part of the seasonal calendars in many parts of the world. The risk that wildfire poses to people and the environment is changing due to numerous factors, including but not limited to climate change. Other factors include land-use changes and demographic changes.”
Research analysis shows the risk of wildfires has become more frequent in some areas and there is more risk in areas that have been unaffected by fires.
A recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet said more than 30,000 people in 43 countries have died due to exposure to wildfire smoke.
Glynis Humphrey of the Plant conservation unit at the University of Cape Town says fire affects U.N. development goals intended to reduce poverty, improve health and spur economic development.
“It affects food systems,” she said. “If a large fire wipes out crops or it impacts on an urban area, it still affects food resources and typically it impacts the poorest of the poor. Fire interacts closely with climate in terms of carbon emissions and rainfall patterns and it impacts human and ecosystem health and it impacts people’s jobs and the economic situation that people find them in. So it’s essential that fire is actually incorporated and acknowledged within the sustainable development goals and put on the agenda.”
Sullivan says the world needs to learn to manage and mitigate the risks of wildfires.
“Eliminating the risk of wildfires is not possible, but much can be done to manage and reduce the risks that they pose,” he saiad. “When it comes to fighting wildfires, we know that technology has very clear limitations, particularly when the wildfire behavior is extreme. Managing the available fuel before a wildfire breaks out through a plant, that is prescribed for hazard reduction burning or other hazard mitigation actions, can reduce the intensity and thus the likely impact of a wildfire. Fuel management will increase the window of effectiveness of suppression actions and also increase firefighters’ safety.”
Environmental experts are calling for the use of data and science-based monitoring systems with indigenous knowledge to achieve robust regional and international cooperation.
The report also calls for international safety standards and asks countries to work on policies and laws that encourage good land and fire use.