A new report warns that even the Arctic, previously all but immune, faces a rising risk of wildfire, and that wildfires and climate change are ‘mutually exacerbating’.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal report reveals that climate change and land-use change are projected to make wildfires more frequent and intense, with a global increase of extreme fires of up to 14%t by 2030, 30% by the end of 2050 and 50% by the end of the century.
The paper calls for a radical change in government spending on wildfires, and a shift of investment from reaction and response to prevention and preparedness.
The report, ‘Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires’, finds an elevated risk even for the Arctic and other regions previously unaffected by wildfires.
The report is released before representatives of 193 nations convene in Nairobi for the resumed 5th session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), between 28 February and 02 March 2022.
The publication calls on governments to adopt a new ‘Fire Ready Formula,’ with two-thirds of spending devoted to planning, prevention, preparedness and recovery, and one-third left for response.
Currently, direct responses to wildfires typically receive over half of related expenditures, while planning and prevention receive less than 1%.
To prevent fires, authors call for a combination of data and science-based monitoring systems with indigenous knowledge and for stronger regional and international cooperation.
Current government responses to wildfires are often putting money in the wrong place. Emergency service workers and firefighters on the frontlines are risking their lives to fight forest wildfires and need to be supported.
‘We have to minimise 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.’
UNEP’s executive director
The impacts of wildfires
Wildfires disproportionately affect the world’s poorest nations. With an impact that extends for days, weeks and even years after the flames subside, they impede progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals and deepen social inequalities.
People’s health is directly affected by inhaling wildfire smoke, causing respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and increased health effects for the most vulnerable.