Wildfire Frequency Will Increase Alongside Socioeconomic Effects

Wildfire Frequency Will Increase Alongside Socioeconomic Effects

New research shows that wildfires will pose an increasing socioeconomic risk as they more frequently destroy agricultural areas and harm populations. The study, published in Nature on Tuesday, finds that even though wildfires will emit less carbon in years to come, they will have bigger impacts on residential and agricultural areas, particularly in Africa, Australia, and the US.

The researchers call for “an emergent strategic preparedness to wildfires in these countries” due to the “elevated socioeconomic risks” of a future with elevated wildfire activity and socioeconomic development.

Why This Matters

Wildfires are becoming more frequent and deadly each year. The UN predicts that wildfires will increase 14% by 2030 and 30% by 2050. A study published earlier this month found wildfires reverse progress made repairing the ozone layer, and that Australia’s Black Summer wildfires in early 2020 released enough smoke to deplete it by 1%. Climate change and wildfires are part of a feedback loop where drier, hotter temperatures spark blazes more easily while vast amounts of carbon released by wildfires contribute to increasing temperatures due to global warming.

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

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

"A More Flammable Future"

The 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season provides a window into what’s to come, costing over $20 billion and killing at least 33 people. The Congo in particular is likely to face a “more flammable future” because of a higher leaf area index, meaning there is more foliage to fuel fires.

Researchers from this week’s study warn that fire seasons worldwide will be sure to ramp up with climate change, stating that their findings confirm “[a] more flammable future from fuel drying under climate change, suggesting an increased likelihood of the 2019–2020 Australian bushfire and 2020 extreme western US wildfire seasons in the upcoming decades.”

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

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