Image: Daniel Munoz
Wildfires are becoming more intense and more frequent, ravaging communities and ecosystems in their path. Recent years have seen record-breaking wildfire seasons across the world from Australia to the Arctic to North and South America. With global temperatures on the rise, the need to reduce wildfire risk is more critical than ever.
A new report, Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires, by UNEP and GRID-Arendal, finds that climate change and land-use change are making wildfires worse and anticipates a global increase of extreme fires even in areas previously unaffected. Uncontrollable and extreme wildfires can be devastating to people, biodiversity and ecosystems. They also exacerbate climate change, contributing significant greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. Dr Glynis Humphrey and Professor Lindsey Gillson, from the Plant Conservation Unit at UCT worked on the report alongside 50 other scientists across the globe.
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UNEP is issuing an urgent call to governments to rethink their approach to extreme wildfires. By calling for a new ‘Fire Ready Formula’ and recognizing the important role of ecosystem restoration, we can minimize the risk of extreme wildfires by being better prepared and building back better in their aftermath.
However in Africa, where about two thirds of the world's wildfires now occur, there are likely to be fewer fires in the coming decades as a growing population is clearing more forest areas for farmland. "In Africa, the number of fires is decreasing, because of the change in land use and the intensification of agriculture," said Dr Glynis Humphrey from the University of Cape Town. "Our percentage of area burned is actually decreasing, and our fires are becoming smaller and smaller, because of the reduction in fuel load."
The authors are calling on governments to change their model of spending on large fires. Right now, the study says that planning and prevention receives less than 1% of funding while firefighting takes over half of the available budget.
Story: Staff writer