How climate change will increase forest fires around the world?

The consequences of climate change are devastating and we are seeing them all over the planet. Now, new research looks at how wildfire risk is increasing globally due to the climate crisis, but also due to human activity and imposed policies.

The study, carried out by an international team of researchers led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK, shows that anthropogenic climate change is a push factor increasing this risk, with its dire consequences. environmental consequences.

How has risk increased?

Climate models suggest that in some areas of the planet, such as the Amazon or the Mediterranean, the frequency of fires in modern times “is unprecedented compared to recent historical climate, due to human-induced global warming of about 1 .1 °C”, they explain in a statement issued by the University of East Anglia.

These same models also reveal that the likelihood of severe wildfires in the western United States, Australia, and Canada is “significantly higher” in recent times. The most serious thing is that “this will be the case in practically all regions of the world if global temperatures reach 2-3 °C of warming according to the current trajectory,” they warn.

Lead author Dr Matthew Jones, from UEA’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, said: “Wildfires can have massive detrimental impacts on society, the economy, human health and livelihoods, biodiversity and carbon storage. These impacts are generally magnified in the case of forest fires.

“Clarifying the link between wildfire trends and climate change is critical to understanding wildfire threats in future climates. Societies can drive or offset rising fire risks due to climate change, and regional actions and policies certainly can be important in preventing forest fires or reducing their severity.

“Ultimately, however, we will fight the tide of rising fire risks as the world gets hotter. Redoubling efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit warming to less than 2°C is the most effective thing we can do to avoid the worst global wildfire risks.

The results of the study show that the duration of the annual fire season has increased by 14 days per year in the period between 1979 and 2019. On the other hand, the fire climate has also grown exponentially in most areas of the planet since the 1980s.

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If global warming increases to 2°C, the elevated risk of catastrophic wildfires will also occur in the boreal forests of Siberia, Canada, and Alaska and in the temperate forests of the western US.

How does human activity influence?

“Wildfires can have massive detrimental impacts on society, the economy, human health and livelihoods, biodiversity, and carbon storage. These impacts are typically magnified in the case of wildfires,” the author explains director, Dr. Matthew Jones, of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at UEA.

The researcher highlight that human activity has important regional effects on the frequency of wildfires in a constantly warming world. “For example, they have increased fire ignition and reduced the natural resilience of some ecosystems to fire, especially in major areas of tropical deforestation in the Amazon and Indonesia.”

However, humans have also been able to reduce the spread of wildfires in prone areas by “converting land to agriculture and fragmenting natural vegetation.” A fact that has been seen in savannah grasslands in Africa, Brazil and in northern Australia.

Key findings of the analyzes include:

  • The length of the annual fire season has increased by 14 days per year (27%) during 1979-2019 on average globally and the frequency of extreme fire days has increased by 10 days per year (54%) during 1979-2019 on average worldwide.
  • Fire weather has increased significantly in most regions of the world since the 1980s. The increases have been particularly pronounced in western North America, the Amazon, and the Mediterranean. Fire climate has already emerged beyond its natural variability in the Mediterranean and Amazon due to historical warming.
  • At 2°C, this will also occur in the boreal forests of Siberia, Canada, and Alaska and in the temperate forests of the western US. At 3°C, virtually every region of the world will experience unprecedented fire weather.
Climate change forest fire
  • Globally, the area burned by fires has decreased by around a quarter, or 1.1 million km2, during 2001-2019. Much of the decrease, 590,000 km2, has occurred in the African savannas, where between 60 and 70% of the area burned by fire occurs annually. Local/regional human impacts have reduced the area burned by fire in tropical savannahs, in combination with lower grassland productivity during (increasingly drier) wet seasons.
  • Large increases in the area burned have been seen elsewhere, especially in temperate and boreal forests. For example, the area burned by fire has increased by 21,400 km2 (93%) in the forests of eastern Siberia and by 3,400 km2 (54%) in the forests of western North America (Pacific Canada and US combined).
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The study evaluated 500 previous research papers and conducts a new analysis of state-of-the-art data sets of satellite observations and models. It includes analyzes of trends in fire climate and burned areas for world regions covering all countries, continental-scale macro-regions, and regional ecosystems key to fire activity or impact.

For these same regions, future changes in fire climate are examined in policy-relevant warming increments of 1.5°C, 2°C, 3°C, and 4°C, providing insights into how the success or the failure of climate policies correspond to the risks. of forest fires that we will have to live with in the future.

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  • Wahid Bhat

    Wahid Bhat is an environmental journalist with a passion for covering climate change and environmental issues. He holds a degree in English Journalism (EJ) from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication and has received Media Fellow for NFI India (National Foundation for India) and Thomson Reuters Foundation. Wahid's reporting has been published in a range of respected outlets including Earth Journalism, Global Village Space, The Quint, Youth Ki Awaaz, and Devdiscourse

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