Academic journal

Wildfires worsen globally; unprepared governments

BILLINGS, Mont. – A warming planet and changes in land use patterns mean more wildfires will burn large parts of the globe in coming decades, causing spikes in unhealthy smoke pollution and other problems that governments are ill-prepared to deal with, according to a UN report released on Wednesday.

According to the United Nations Environment Program report.

Areas once considered safe from major fires will not be safe, including the Arctic, which the report said was “very likely to see a significant increase in fires”.

The rainforests of Indonesia and the southern South American Amazon are also likely to see an increase in wildfires, the report concludes.

“Uncontrollable and devastating wildfires are becoming an expected part of seasonal calendars in many parts of the world,” said Andrew Sullivan of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, one of the report’s authors.

The report describes a worsening cycle: climate change leads to more drought and higher temperatures that make it easier for fires to start and spread, and in turn, those fires release more carbon into the atmosphere as they burn. burn through forests and bogs.

Some regions, including parts of Africa, are seeing fewer wildfires, in part because more land is being used for agriculture, said report co-author Glynis Humphrey of the University of Cape Town. .

But the UN researchers said many countries continue to spend too much time and money fighting fires and not enough trying to prevent them. Land use changes can make fires worse, such as logging that leaves behind debris that can easily burn and forests that are intentionally set alight to clear land for agriculture, the report said.

Poor communities are often the hardest hit by fires, which can degrade water quality, destroy crops and reduce the land available to grow food.

“It impacts people’s jobs and the economic situation that people find themselves in,” Humphrey said. “It is essential that fire be in the same category of disaster management as floods and droughts. It is absolutely essential.

In the United States, officials recently unveiled a $50 billion effort to reduce fire risk over the next decade by more aggressively thinning forests around “hot spots” where nature and neighborhoods clash. Only a fraction of that work has been funded so far — about $3 billion over five years under the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, according to officials in President Biden’s administration.

Critics of the administration’s plan say it continues to place too much emphasis on fighting certain fires that can be useful in clearing undergrowth when flames remain relatively small and do not threaten homes.

The UN researchers have also called for greater awareness of the dangers of wildfire smoke inhalation, which can affect tens of millions of people every year as plumes from major wildfires drift over thousands of kilometers across international borders.

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