A UN report published on Wednesday February 23, 2022 warns of the spread of these unstoppable and uncontrollable fires, as in Australia (2019/2020). “Uncontrolled wildfires and climate change are mutually aggravating,” the study said.
“Climate change and changing land use are expected to make uncontrolled fires more frequent and intense,” warns the UN in a new report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Center for information and data GRID-Arendal, published Wednesday, February 23, 2022.
Endangerment of firefighters and populations
In the report, the experts warn of a generalization of these uncontrolled fires in all geographical areas of the globe. “Even the Arctic, a region so far virtually spared, is facing an increasing risk of uncontrolled fires,” they explain.
Many countries are therefore at risk of facing these mega-fires. And the first people sent to the front are the firefighters. The report therefore calls for “the strengthening of international standards relating to the safety and health of firefighters and the reduction of the risks they face before, during and after operations.”
Episodes of mega-fires, as experienced by Australia in 2019 and 2020, which caused the death or migration of 3 billion animals, are expected to increase. “Experts predict a global increase in extreme fires of up to 14% by 2030, 30% by 2050 and 50% by the end of the century.”
The report, titled Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires, was released days before the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly. This session will bring together the representatives of the 193 nations from February 28 to March 2.
The time is no longer just to reduce our impact on the planet but to invest in tools to prevent, fight and minimize these fires, explains the UN.
Smoke inhalation is one of the major risks for firefighters but also for exposed populations. Direct consequences of these fires, supplemented by other repercussions.
In particular “the economic costs of reconstruction” after disaster, a real challenge for the poorest countries. But also, “waste left on site”, highly contaminated and which must “be disposed of appropriately”.
Therefore, experts in the UN report argue for the need for “a combination of policies, legal framework and incentives” to manage land and fires properly.
Global warming, an aggravating factor
If global warming is not the direct cause of these uncontrolled fires, it promotes and intensifies them, insists the UN. “Wildfires are aggravated by climate change due to increased drought, high air temperatures, low relative humidity, lightning and high winds, leading to warmer fire seasons, drier and longer.”
In short, “uncontrolled fires and climate change make each other worse.” These mega-fires also worsen climate change by destroying “sensitive ecosystems”. “The landscapes are thus transformed into powder kegs, which complicates the fight against rising temperatures.”
This also has an impact on wildlife “bringing certain animal and plant species closer to extinction.”
Investing in forest fire prevention and action
“Even with the most ambitious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet will experience a dramatic increase in the frequency of conditions conducive to extreme fires,” the UN report said.
To be prepared for these inevitable mega-fires, United Nations experts call on leaders “to direct their investments towards prevention and preparation” upstream.
They propose and advise to set up a new formula of preparation for fires: “two thirds of the expenses would be devoted to planning, prevention, preparation and recovery, and one third to interventions.” Today, “planning and prevention receives less than 1%”.
“Current government responses to wildfires often put money in the wrong place,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director. “Emergency service workers and firefighters who are on the front lines and risking their lives to fight the wildfires must be supported.”
To fight these flames effectively and reduce the threats, “it is necessary […] to: invest more in reducing the risk of fire, work with local communities and strengthen the global commitment to the fight against climate change” , says Inger Andersen.
The experts also recommend a few solutions to avoid, or at least reduce, the outbreak of uncontrolled fires.
“Restoring ecosystems is an important solution to mitigating the risk of fires before they happen and to build back better afterwards.”
This includes, for example, “restoring wetlands and reintroducing species such as beavers, restoring peatlands, placing buildings away from vegetation, and maintaining open buffer spaces”.
On a smaller scale, it is possible to deal with these fires “by reducing activities that can cause fires to start, by better managing dead plants on the ground, by clearing brush around homes…”, also lists