Ominous UN Report: We Must 'Learn to Live With Fire'

Number of catastrophic fires could increase by 50% by century's end
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 23, 2022 8:58 AM CST
UN Report on Wildfires: Not Even Arctic Will Be Immune
Firefighters work at the scene of forest fire near Kyuyorelyakh village at Gorny Ulus area, west of Yakutsk, in Russia Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021.   (AP Photo/Ivan Nikiforov, File)

(Newser) – 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 being released Wednesday. The western US, northern Siberia, central India, and eastern Australia already are seeing more blazes, and the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires globally could increase more than 50% by the end of the century, according to the report from the UN Environment Program. Standout points:

  • CNN reports that the report indicates it's time we "learn to live with fire."
  • 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, per the AP.
  • The report projected a 14% uptick in such events by 2030, and a 30% increase by 2050, getting that 50% rise by century's end. The Washington Post points out those projections factor in "deep cuts" to greenhouse gas emissions occurring.

  • UN researchers faulted many nations for continuing to spend too much time and money fighting fires and not enough trying to prevent them. The Guardian has the specifics: Right now about half of current funding goes to direct wildfire response; planning and prevention see less than 1%. The report wants things moved around so that half goes to planning, preventing, and preparedness, 30% goes to response, and 20% to recovery.
  • In the United States, officials recently unveiled a $50 billion effort to reduce fire risks over the next decade by more aggressively thinning forests around "hot spots" where nature and neighborhoods collide. However, the Biden administration has so far identified only a fraction of the funding called for in the plan.
  • The UN researchers also called for more awareness of the dangers from smoke inhalation, which can affect tens of millions of people annually as plumes from major wildfires drift thousands of miles across international borders.
(Read more wildfires stories.)

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