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Researcher: "There are significant regional differences with forest fires"


Climate change is intensifying wildfires, especially in northern regions, says fire researcher Thomas Hickler. If the Paris climate targets were met, humanity could probably “still adapt quite well in fighting forest fires.” But above the two-degree limit, things will become problematic.
Mr Hickler, do you still have an overview of where forests are currently burning?
Satellite observation data, for example, from ESA’s Copernicus program or NASA’s fire observation system, provide a good overview. Copernicus, for instance, has closely monitored the blazes in eastern Russia, the fires in Greece, Algeria, Italy and Canada. I have kept track of some regional fires, but not all of them. Interesting statistics on these often only emerge after some delay.
Are we in a new age of wildfires? Or do the fires only seem to be getting worse because we are looking more closely?
Data show: From a global perspective, the area of forest fires has been increasing since the turn of the millennium. However, the trend is not very strong so far, and there are significant regional differences. There are not more fires everywhere. So, I would not speak of a new era. Until recently, the area of fires in Europe actually tended to decrease, but due to climate change, forest fires are now also occurring in northern regions, where they were hardly ever so intense before. In Germany, too, there were more fires a few decades ago than today. But since the very dry summer of 2018, we have had three years in which considerably more forests have burned than in previous years.
What dimensions are we talking about here?
Last year, more than 3,000 hectares of forest burned in Germany. That is a lot by local standards. But in Southern Europe, the burnt areas are much larger. In Portugal, for example, more than 86,000 hectares burned in 2022, in Romania more than 150,000 and in Spain more than 280,000, and in all of Europe more than 700,000 hectares burned – more than ever before since measurements began. But in Canada, almost 14 million hectares of forest have burned so far this year. These are entirely different dimensions.
How much is climate change contributing to fires?
Global warming increases the risk of fire, especially in northern latitudes, because it results in drier and hotter weather conditions in which fires can ignite more easily and spread faster. The warmer it gets, the more frequent we will have such weather conditions in the future. The EU also recognizes this in its climate change adaptation strategy. But whether there is a fire or not, and how great the destruction caused by the fire is, depends above all on humans.
This interview first appeared in Climate.Table, a product of Table.Media - Professional Briefings. Register for a free trial here. Read the full article here:
https://go.table.media/hJdx4

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