Nearly 36,000 square miles of Forest worldwide were lost to fires in 2021, which is equivalent to nearly three times that of New York City’s Central Park every one hour. Forest fire also resulted in the loss of three million hectares of tree cover loss per year compared to 2001, according to the latest data from Global Forest Watch (GFW).
Stating that forest fires are becoming more widespread, burning nearly twice as much tree cover today as they did 20 years ago, the GFW said that 2021 was one of the worst years for forest fires since the turn of the century.
FOREST FIRES; MOST IMPACTED
The GFW stated that the large majority (roughly 70 per cent) of all fire-related tree cover loss over the past two decades occurred in boreal regions. It pointed out that fire-related tree cover loss increased by a rate of about 110,000 hectares (three per cent) per year over the last 20 years, which comes to about half the total global increase.
The data showed that increasing fire-related tree cover loss in boreal forests is likely due to the warming of northern high-latitude regions at a faster rate than the rest of the planet. This led to longer fire seasons, greater fire frequency and severity, and larger burned areas in these regions, the data said.
Apart from this,. The GFW also said that Russia saw an astonishing 5.4 million hectares of fire-related tree cover loss. This was the most recorded in the last 20 years and a 31 per cent increase over 2020, the data showed.
FOREST FIRE; TROPICAL
Coming to the tropical forests, the data showed that over the last 20 years, fire-related tree cover loss increased at a rate of about 36,000 hectares (around five per cent) per year. This accounted for roughly 15 per cent of the total global increase in tree cover loss from fires, the data added.
In the data, the GFW said that more common drivers in the tropics that led to tree loss was commodity-driven deforestation and shifting agriculture. Deforestation and forest degradation associated with agricultural expansion lead to higher temperatures and dried out vegetation, they added.
It also said that almost all the fires in the tropics are started by people, rather than sparked by natural ignition sources like lightning strikes. Warmer and drier conditions exacerbate the situation. This is further fueled by El Niño events, natural climate cycles that recur every 2-7 years and cause below-average rainfall across parts of Southeast Asia and Latin America. During the 2015-2016 El Niño season, tree cover loss due to fires increased 10-fold in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and Latin America.
FOREST FIRE; WHY WORSENING?
The GFW attribute climate change as one of the main drivers for the frequent forest fires. Extreme heat waves are already five times more likely today than they were 150 years ago and are expected to become even more frequent as the planet continues to warm. Warmer temperatures dry out the landscape and help create the perfect environment for larger, more frequent forest fires. This in turn leads to higher emissions from forest fires, further exacerbating climate change and contributing to more fires as part of a fire-climate feedback loop.
Apart from this, expansion of human activities like agriculture into forested areas, is driving much of the increase in fire activity we see today, including recent record-setting fires in France and other areas in Europe, they said.
According to GFW
- From 2002 to 2021, there was a total of 68.4Mha humid primary forest lost globally, making up 16% of its total tree cover loss in the same time period. Total area of humid primary forest decreased globally by 6.7% in this time period.
- From 2001 to 2021, there was a total of 119Mha tree cover lost from fires globally and 318Mha from all other drivers of loss. The year with the most tree cover loss due to fires during this period was 2016 with 9.61Mha lost to fires — 32% of all tree cover loss for that year.
Global Forest Watch is an online platform that provides data and tools for monitoring forests. By harnessing cutting-edge technology, GFW allows anyone to access near real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world.