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UN report predicts 50% increase in wildfires worldwide by end of century

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The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published a new report Wednesday, predicting a significant increase in wildfires around the world throughout the rest of the century. According to a press release on the report, titled “Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires,” the authors of the report expect “a global increase of extreme fires of up to 14% by 2030, 30% by the end of 2050 and 50% by the end of the century.” The video includes comments from some of the report’s contributors, as well as scenes from a recent fire in Argentina.

“The definition of a catastrophic fire would be one that would occur once very hundred years. So it is a very low frequency fire event and the result was that the potential for that sort of fire would increase by a factor of 1.3 to 1.5 times,” report co-author Andrew Sullivan said ahead of the report’s release. “The implication is that extreme events are increasing by that much, the less extreme events are likely to be increasing by as much as well, so it is basically a continuing relationship from the very common fire to the very rare fires.”

Not only did the report predict an increase in wildfires this century, it also criticized “current government responses to wildfires,” saying governments “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,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said. “We have to minimize the risk of extreme wildfires by being better prepared: invest more in fire risk reduction, work with local communities, and strengthen global commitment to fight climate change.”

The report called on world governments to adopt what it calls a ‘Fire Ready Formula’ to battling wildfires. Under that formula, 2/3 of spending would go to planning, prevention, preparedness, and recovery, with the other third going to response.

The wildfire report was released just over a month after the Biden administration unveiled a $50 billion effort to reduce fire risks over the next decade. The strategy is to aggressively thin forests around “hot spots” where the forests lead right into neighborhoods. However, the administration has only identified a fraction of the funding called for in the plan.

Andrew Sullivan, with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, co-author of report: “The definition of a catastrophic fire would be one that would occur once very hundred years. So it is a very low frequency fire event and the result was that the potential for that sort of fire would increase by a factor of 1.3 to 1.5 times. That’s based on global analysis of fire frequency so it is not regional in any sense, and you can’t determine where that change in fire likelihood is likely to occur.”

“The implication is that extreme events are increasing by that much, the less extreme events are likely to be increasing by as much as well, so it is basically a continuing relationship from the very common fire to the very rare fires.”

Dr. Glynis Humphrey, Plant Conservation Unit, University of Cape Town, Contributing author: “I think the report offers a very balanced approach to fire management. There has been a lot of focus on fire suppression and fire prevention for decades and I think we are at a turning point where this report actually explains a lot of the science and the need and how valuable fire is for ecosystems and for people. So I think the findings of the report, even though it is focussed on extreme wildfire events, I think gives a very nuanced perspective.”

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published a new report Wednesday, predicting a significant increase in wildfires around the world throughout the rest of the century. According to a press release on the report, titled “Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires,” the authors of the report expect “a global increase of extreme fires of up to 14% by 2030, 30% by the end of 2050 and 50% by the end of the century.” The video includes comments from some of the report’s contributors, as well as scenes from a recent fire in Argentina.

“The definition of a catastrophic fire would be one that would occur once very hundred years. So it is a very low frequency fire event and the result was that the potential for that sort of fire would increase by a factor of 1.3 to 1.5 times,” report co-author Andrew Sullivan said ahead of the report’s release. “The implication is that extreme events are increasing by that much, the less extreme events are likely to be increasing by as much as well, so it is basically a continuing relationship from the very common fire to the very rare fires.”

Not only did the report predict an increase in wildfires this century, it also criticized “current government responses to wildfires,” saying governments “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,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said. “We have to minimize the risk of extreme wildfires by being better prepared: invest more in fire risk reduction, work with local communities, and strengthen global commitment to fight climate change.”

The report called on world governments to adopt what it calls a ‘Fire Ready Formula’ to battling wildfires. Under that formula, 2/3 of spending would go to planning, prevention, preparedness, and recovery, with the other third going to response.

The wildfire report was released just over a month after the Biden administration unveiled a $50 billion effort to reduce fire risks over the next decade. The strategy is to aggressively thin forests around “hot spots” where the forests lead right into neighborhoods. However, the administration has only identified a fraction of the funding called for in the plan.

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