UN Calls for "Radical" Shift in Wildfire Preparedness

UN Calls for "Radical" Shift in Wildfire Preparedness

A new report from the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal finds that extreme wildfires have become the "new normal" and may only worsen as the world heats up. Climate change will cause wildfires to be more frequent and intense. The global increase of extreme fires will be up to 14% by end of 2030, 30% by end of 2050, and 50% by end of the century.

The report’s forward states, "From Australia to Canada, the United States to China, across Europe and the Amazon, wildfires are wreaking havoc on the environment, wildlife, human health, and infrastructure."

Forbes: Climate Change Could Drive Wildfire Risk Up 50% By End Of Century, UN Warns, February 23, 2022.

Why This Matters

This report confirms that wildfires are growing increasingly expensive, destructive, and deadly. Climate change and wildfires are mutually reinforcing: dry, hot temperatures spark blazes more easily, and the vast amounts of carbon released by wildfires contribute to global warming. These fires are also harder to inhibit. This month, another study found that global warming may create "megafires resistant to fire-suppression practices" that even spread at night.

This study should be a wake-up call for governments to take a more active role in preventing and mitigating fire destruction because the current situation "is certainly extreme, [but] it is not yet hopeless," according to the report.

Guardian: The climate science behind wildfires - why are they getting worse?, August 20, 2021.

Reuters: Scientist says climate change worsened Colorado fire, January 3, 2022.

Learning To Live With Wildfires

The report outlines ways for nations to deal with wildfires more effectively, calling for a "radical" shift. The UNEP report encourages governments to rethink wildfire spending. It recommends allocating 45% of budgets toward prevention and preparedness, 34% toward firefighting response, and 20% for recovery.

Most governments budget for wildfires in the exact opposite way. Paulo Fernandes, a contributing author of the UNEP report, told Reuters, In many regions of the world, most resources go toward response -- they focus on the short-term."

UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson echoes Fernandes in a press release, stating: "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."

MSNBC: Climate Change Is Our Greatest Existential Threat, January 3, 2022.

River Voices: Our house is on fire, January 3, 2022.

WW0: Dr. Alex Hall & Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali Discuss the California Fires and Climate Change, September 30, 2020.