Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you to this important event on wildfires and climate change.
In recent years, we have witnessed the growing trend in the scope, and intensity, of wildfires in different countries, and regions, across the globe. This year, wildfires have left scenes of utter devastation in many countries, from the Mediterranean, to Siberia, and the Americas.
Sadly, over 400 million hectares of land are affected by fire, every year. 100 million hectares of the burned land are in forests, equivalent to 3 percent of the world’s forest area.
The impacts of wildfires are widespread. They affect all aspects of life on our planet. However, the costs of wildfires have been significantly underestimated. Indeed, some studies have estimated that the total cost that communities, businesses, and governments bear, could be from 2, to 30 times higher than the official estimates of large wildfire costs.
Wildfires affect all biomes – from forests and savannahs, to grasslands and tundra. Among them, forest fires are the most concerning. Even though forests make up only 10 percent of the total area burned every year – due to their high carbon storage capacity – forest fires account for one-quarter of all fire-related carbon dioxide emissions.
Furthermore, forests are home to 80 percent of terrestrial biodiversity, and source 75 percent of freshwater. Therefore, forest fires can have severe impacts on biodiversity, water quality, and human health. Indeed, the adverse impacts, and the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, pose an emerging threat to a sustainable future for all.
One critical key driver of wildfires, is climate change. In fact, wildfires and climate change are two deeply, interconnected global challenges.
Studies indicate that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions has led to a more fire-prone climate pattern. This has increased the size, intensity, and severity of wildfires. Due to climate change, we are expected to face a greater number of fires, longer fire seasons, and more high intensity and extreme fires in the future. The increased occurrence of mega-fires, in turn, has resulted in greater release of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, further accelerating climate change.
For this reason, addressing the risk of wildfires has become an important area of action for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Another key driver of wildfires, is human activity. For example:
• Forests are converted into agricultural and pastoral land,
• residential areas are built close to forests,
• old-growth forests are replaced by dense plantations, and
• unsustainable fire suppression measures, and fire management plans, are applied.
This all contributes to the piling up of fuels in biomes, and links small patches of fire-prone areas, onto large landscapes. Thus, once ignited, climate change and extreme weather are there to fuel the fire, into the large and uncontrollable situations.
To assist countries in reducing the risk of wildfires, UN-DESA has produced a background study and a policy brief, on wildfires. They provide an overview of:
• the current trends, drivers and impacts of wildfires,
• their interconnection with climate change, and
• suggestions to reduce their risks and impacts.
Allow me to highlight our key messages in this regard.
First: We need to devise comprehensive strategies for wildfire management. Such strategies should include all aspects related to risk mitigation and prevention, fire suppression, and post-disaster recovery.
Second: It is essential to apply scientific and sound traditional knowledge. Greater use of modern technologies in monitoring, detecting, and controlling fires – such as through remote sensing and real-time alarming systems – can help reduce their impact and cost. The traditional knowledge and practices of local communities and indigenous peoples, could be useful to enhance the efficiency, of wildfire management strategies.
Third: Involvement of people and stakeholders is critical. Local communities and indigenous peoples are at the front lines of climate change. Engaging stakeholders in all stages of preparation, and implementation of wildfire management strategies, is important.
Fourth: We must promote a synergetic agenda for climate and forests. To this end, in the strategies to curb wildfires, actions must address their key drivers.
Fifth: Effective action should be taken at the national level, to include:
• sustainable land use,
• sustainable forest management, and
• fire management, including climate change adaptation and mitigation, and biodiversity conservation. Sufficient investment and budget should also be in place to support their implementation.
Sixth: International cooperation is vital. Due to the transboundary impacts of large-scale wildfires, and the different capacities of countries in dealing with wildfires, international collaboration is essential for global action.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hope that our discussions today will inspire new and accelerated actions in addressing wildfires, and in contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
I thank you.