Breakdown: Why the UN says the wildfire risk will rise this century
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The United Nations released a report on February 23, 2022 saying we can expect uncontrollable wildfires to increase in this century.
The report is called Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires. You can download it here. It’s conducted in partnership with the nonprofit GRID-Arendal, based in Norway. In the long run, it suggests that even Arctic and other regions previously unaffected by wildfires will be experiencing wildfires later in this century.
Significantly, the projections are a 14% increase by 2030, 30% by 2050 and 50% by the end of the century.
The report cites two reasons, specifically: climate change and land-use change.
Wildfires and climate change are “mutually exacerbating”, according to the report.
“Wildfires are made worse by climate change through increased drought, high air temperatures, low relative humidity, lightning, and strong winds resulting in hotter, drier, and longer fire seasons,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
“At the same time, climate change is made worse by wildfires, mostly by ravaging sensitive and carbon-rich ecosystems like peatlands and rainforests. This turns landscapes into tinderboxes, making it harder to halt rising temperatures.”
Wildlife, as well as natural habitats, are also rarely spared. Wildfires have even pushed some animal and plant species closer to extinction. The 2020 bushfires in Australia are estimated to have wiped out billions of domesticated and wild animals.
Additionally, wildfires disproportionately affect the world’s poorest nations, with impacts that last long after the flames subside – impeding progress towards sustainable development and deepening social inequalities.
Smoke from wildfires directly affects people’s health, for example, causing respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, while the cost of rebuilding can be beyond the means of low-income countries.
The report underscores the critical need to better understand the behavior of wildfires. Prevention calls for a combination of data and science-based monitoring systems with indigenous knowledge, and for a stronger regional and international cooperation.
Governments are urged to adopt a so-called “Fire Ready Formula”, which calls for two thirds of spending to be devoted to planning, prevention, preparedness and recovery – and one third for response.
They said that currently, money is often being put in the wrong place.
“Those emergency service workers and firefighters on the frontlines who are risking their lives to fight forest wildfires need to be supported. We have to minimize the risk of extreme wildfires by being better prepared: invest more in fire risk reduction, work with local communities, and strengthen global commitment to fight climate change,” said Andersen.
Currently, direct responses to wildfires receive over half of related expenditure, with less than one per cent allocated for planning and prevention, according to the report.
The authors hope the report will shed light on the problem and call for stronger international standards for the safety and health of firefighters and for reducing the threats they face on the job.
This includes raising awareness of the risks of smoke inhalation, minimizing the potential for life-threatening entrapments, and providing them with access to adequate hydration, nutrition, rest, and recovery between shifts.
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