Written by Vivienne Halleux,
Covering nearly one third of the land surface of the globe, forests make a wide range of direct and indirect contributions to human well-being. Home to most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, they also play an essential role in climate change mitigation, removing about a quarter of the CO2 that human activities add to the atmosphere. Worldwide, millions of hectares (ha) of forests and other types of vegetation burn every year.
Fire dynamics are shaped by a complex set of factors, including human activity and climate. While a warming and drying climate increases the risk of fires, fires, by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contribute in turn to global warming. Forest fires that are not balanced by vegetation regrowth, i.e. fires used in the deforestation process, and fires burning on carbon-rich peatlands are of particular concern. Fires also emit air pollutants, including particulate matter, with adverse impacts on human health. Beyond emissions of particles and gases, forest fires can also affect biodiversity and ecosystem conditions, and damage soils.
The European Union (EU) has committed to protecting the world’s forests under several international agreements and initiatives, including the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity and the Paris Agreement on climate change. At EU level, funding is available to support forest fire prevention and restorative measures, as well as research into fire risk management. The Union civil protection mechanism can be called upon for help by any country in the world when national response capacities to fight fires are overwhelmed. Under the European Green Deal, legislative and non-legislative measures are expected in the near future to strengthen forest protection within and outside the EU. The European Parliament recently asked the European Commission to propose an EU legal framework to tackle EU-driven global deforestation, based on mandatory due diligence for companies placing forest- and ecosystem-risk commodities and derived products on the EU market, with penalties in the event of non-compliance.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Forest fires: Environmental stakes‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
Listen to policy podcast ‘Forest fires: Environmental stakes’ on YouTube.