How climate change is increasing wildfires around the world

 What are wildfires?

A wildfire is any type of uncontrolled fire that spreads across forests, grasslands or pasturelands. Worldwide, only 4% of wildfires occur naturally, chiefly due to lightning, the rest are started by humans, either accidentally or by arson.

In the US alone, 84% of fires are started by humans.

Influence of human land-use activity

As per NASA scientists, the Amazon’s severe 2019 fire season was “more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought”.

“Slash-and-burn” clearing has also been linked to damaging peat fires in Indonesia.

Human-caused climate change

In Africa, most of the fires are started either for clearing pasture

land or for agriculture, due to which over 70% of the world’s fires occur in the African continent.

In other parts of the world, including the US, wildfires occur due debris burning, sparks thrown from equipment, power lines, smoking, fireworks, campfires, accidental ignitions, and arson.

Adverse Impact of Wildfires on Human, Wildlife & Economy

A major driver of greenhouse gas emissions, wildfires are responsible for 5-8% of the 3.3 million annual premature deaths from poor air quality.

The 2019-20 Australia wildfires alone claimed the lives of 33 people, destroyed thousands of homes and killed or displaced about 3 bn animals. 

Emissions contribute to global temperature rise, accelerating the vicious climate feedback loop

Rising temperatures and atmosphere CO2 concentrations

How is climate change affecting wildfire risk?

A 2015 study revealed that between 1979-2013, the wildfire season has lengthened by an average of 19%. It stated that on average 3.5m square km of land goes up in smoke each year as a result of wildfires.

This year, unprecedented heat in the Arctic fanned large fires in Siberia that threatens to release millions of tonnes of long-held carbon.

How will wildfires change in the future?

A 2017 study found that on an average, there could be a 35% increase in wildfires across regions like the western US, southeastern Australia, southern Africa.

However if efforts are taken to limit global warming to below 2°C, the goal of the Paris Agreement, this “would substantially curb that increase”, the study stated.

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