A warming planet and changes to land use patterns mean more wildfires will scorch large parts of the globe in coming decades, causing spikes in unhealthy smoke pollution and other problems that governments are ill prepared to confront, according to a UN report.
The western United States, northern Siberia, central India and eastern Australia are already seeing more blazes, and the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires globally could increase by a third by 2050 and more than 50% by the turn of the century, according to the report from the United Nations Environment Program.
Areas once considered safe from major fires won’t be immune, including the Arctic, which the report said was ‘very likely to experience a significant increase in burning’.
Tropical forests in Indonesia and the southern Amazon of South America also are likely to see increased wildfires, the report concluded.
‘Uncontrollable and devastating wildfires are becoming an expected part of the seasonal calendars in many parts of the world,’ said Andrew Sullivan, with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, one of the report’s authors.
The report described a worsening cycle: Climate change brings more drought and higher temperatures that make it easy for fires to start and spread, and in turn those blazes release more climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere as they burn through forests and peatland.
But UN researchers said many nations continue to spend too much time and money fighting fires and not enough trying to prevent them.
The UN researchers also called for more awareness of the dangers from wildfire smoke inhalation, which can affect tens of millions of people annually as plumes from major wildfires drift thousands of kilometres across international borders.
For more information, go to www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-24/un-report-wildfire-threats/100856642