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Friday, May 27, 2022
MADRID, Mar 10 2022 (IPS) - 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 percent by 2030, 30 percent by the end of 2050 and 50 percent by the end of the century, according to a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal, a non-profit environmental communications centre based in Norway.
“Even the Arctic, previously all but immune, faces rising wildfire risk,” experts on 23 February 2022 said ahead of the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi.
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 document was released before the resumed 5th session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) convened in Nairobi, between 28 February and 2 March, 2022.
Dangerous wildfire weather projected to get worse
Another UNEP report, issued on 17 February 2022, warns that:
The report calls for greater investment in reducing the risks of wildfires; development of prevention and response management approaches that include vulnerable, rural, traditional and indigenous communities; and further refinements in remote sensing capabilities, such as satellites, radar and lightning detection.
The fast spread of wildfires has significant impacts on health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
A burn is an injury to the skin or other organic tissue primarily caused by heat or due to radiation, radioactivity, electricity, friction or contact with chemicals, explains WHO.
Thermal (heat) burns occur when some or all of the cells in the skin or other tissues are destroyed by:
Burns are a global public health problem, WHO reports. The majority of these occur in low- and middle-income countries and almost two thirds occur in the WHO African and South-East Asia regions.
Non-fatal burns are a leading cause of morbidity, including prolonged hospitalisation, disfigurement and disability, often with resulting stigma and rejection.
The world body adds that:
Some country data
WHO provides some examples:
A fire-ready formula
The UNEP-GRID Arendal report calls on governments to adopt a new ‘Fire Ready Formula’, with two-thirds of spending devoted to planning, prevention, preparedness, and recovery, with one third left for response.
“Currently, direct responses to wildfires typically receive over half of related expenditures, while planning receives less than one percent.”
“Current government responses to wildfires are often putting money 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”, said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director.
“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”.
Wildfires disproportionately affect the world’s poorest nations, UNEP-GRID Arendal experts warn.
Deepening social inequalities
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:
“Wildfires and climate change are mutually exacerbating. 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.”
Billions of animals wiped out
At the same time, adds the UNEP-GRID Arendal report, 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 and its natural habitats are rarely spared from wildfires, pushing some animal and plant species closer to extinction. A recent example is the Australian 2020 bushfires, which are estimated to have wiped out billions of domesticated and wild animals.”
The UNEP-GRID Arendal report was commissioned in support of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The Decade (2021-2030) is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature.
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