Large fires will become more frequent, warns the UN

The intensity and frequency of fires harmful to ecosystems are increasing across the planet, a “challenge for which, at this time, we are not prepared,” the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned today. In a report, the UNEP, based in Nairobi, predicts that the climate crisis and the change in land use will make forest fires more frequent and intense, with a global increase in extreme fires of up to 14% by 2030, 30% by the end of 2050 and 50% by the end of the century.

“Lightning and human carelessness have always caused uncontrolled fires, but anthropogenic climate change, changes in land use and poor management of land and forests mean that forest fires more often find the right conditions to be destructive,” said the study, also prepared by the Norwegian environmental center GRID-Arendal.

“Forest fires burn longer and hotter in places where they have always occurred, and they are also appearing in unexpected places, such as dry peatlands or during thawing permafrost,” added the UNEP report, in which they have participated. more than fifty experts from all continents.

gases into the atmosphere

In addition to destroying huge parts of some of the last refuges for biodiversity on the planet, such as the Great Pantanal of Brazil, the fires are also emitting enormous amounts of polluting gases into the atmosphere, in turn facilitating more increases in temperatures, more droughts and more fires.

UNEP experts advised governments to engage indigenous leaders in fire management, as well as to invest in planning, prevention and recovery from wildfires, rather than just focusing on putting them out. Currently, prevention programs only receive around 0.2% of the total budget invested to manage forest fires.

Likewise, this report underlined the importance of the international community, through the United Nations, also becoming involved in fire management, which until now is almost the sole responsibility of national governments.

“Wildfires should be placed in the same category of global humanitarian response as major earthquakes and floods,” the UNEP study noted. From 2002 to 2016, some 423 million hectares were burned each year, an area equivalent to that of the European Union. Africa is the continent most affected by these fires, accumulating about 67% of the annual global area burned.

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“We must learn to better manage and mitigate the risk of wildfires that threaten human health and our livelihoods, biodiversity and the global climate,” said Susan Gardner, Director of the UNEP Division for Ecosystems.

UNEP published this report a few days before the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), which will take place from February 28 to March 2 in Nairobi.

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