Australian Wildfires Reinforce The Need To Protect Forests. Here’s How

By Justin Adams, Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance
Jan 23, 2020

 

Forests don’t make headlines; forest fires do. Unfortunately, in the past year, forests have been in the news for the wrong reasons.

Wildfires are common during dry seasons in many forests around the world and contribute to the health of the forest by making way for new life. But the frequency and ferocity of fires is increasing. Major fires have burned across all continents except Antarctica in the past year. These fires are a harbinger of a new normal in a changing climate as scientists have longed warned.

Three damaging wildfires stood out: In Australia today, the scale of the fires is unimaginable. They are affecting an area bigger than small European countries and having enormous impacts on people and wildlife. They still aren’t extinguished, and future fire seasons could be even worse.

2019 also saw an uptick in fires in the Amazon Basin. There was a concern that the fires were following an increase in deforestation, which was later confirmed by official Brazilian data, and a deeper concern that parts of the forest may be reaching a tipping point.

In the Arctic, we saw troubling images of fires in Siberia and Alaska. Fires in the great boreal forests that circle the entire northern hemisphere are natural, but the scale of the fires in 2019 was unprecedented, with record high temperatures north of the Arctic Circle.

While different in scale, each of these fires has had significant effects: more and more people are being killed as fires become the new norm in many countries. Air quality is impacted as fires blanket whole regions with haze cities – Australia has recorded the worst pollution levels in the world – and wildlife is increasingly impacted. This all contributes to more carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

But this is not a story of despondency. Nature may be on the front lines of a changing climate. But it can also be one of our strongest allies to reduce emissions globally as well as enhance resilience for communities and landscapes. Nature-based solutions can deliver up to a third of the emission reductions needed to keep temperatures below 2oC. To harness this potential there are three strategies that the world must urgently prioritise:

1.      Stop deforestation

Deforestation remains at near-record highs despite significant investment from the private sector to reduce deforestation in supply chains. The challenge is significantly more complex than any single actor can solve alone. Heading into 2020, it’s clear that companies need to redouble their efforts but also work more closely with governments and the finance sector to eliminate commodity driven deforestation.

We also need to recognise that an increasing amount of deforestation is driven by illegality and criminality in many countries, as well as by poverty. We must increase the political will to eradicate criminality, and we need to support greater investment in development and creation of economic alternative for smallholder farmers in situations where converting forest may be the difference between hunger and health.

None of this is easy that is why there is an urgent need for concerted collective action – looking at and working to improve all parts of the whole. That is how we stop deforestation.

2.      Work together to manage fires

Learning to better manage fires will be critical for enhancing resilience and reducing the impacts of more intense and frequent fires. But there are few mechanisms to share knowledge and practices globally. Global Forest Watch and other platforms now offer more interactive tools for monitoring fires, but we are not learning nor celebrating the success of fighting fires.

For example, Indonesia has experienced several catastrophic forest fires, often made worse by peat land with a huge carbon store, which once ignited is difficult to extinguish. The fires of 2015 were estimated to have killed 100,000 people. The dry season of 2019 also threatened to be difficult, but improved fire management from both the government, which established a Peat Restoration Agency in 2016, and leading private companies like APRIL and APP, who run Fire Free Village programs around their estates have been successful at reducing instances and severity of fires.

In addition, indigenous communities around the world have worked with fire for centuries in many countries around the world to manage their landscapes. By setting fires early in the season, they can avoid catastrophic fires in the height of the dry season. I had the honour to spend a week with Aboriginal Rangers in the Kimberly and saw the pride and cultural significance of this work. There is potential to scale these efforts.

3.      Accelerate restoration

Last, but by no means least, we need to unleash a global restoration movement. There is growing understanding that reforestation and better land management is one of the best solutions we have to actively drawdown carbon from the atmosphere and lock the carbon up in our forests, grasslands and wetlands. Scientists estimate there were 6 trillion trees after the last ice age, but we are now down to a little over 3 trillion.

The World Economic Forum launched a new platform 1t.org, a multistakeholder effort to support efforts to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees around the world. By growing, restoring and conserving a trillion trees or more over the course of the next decade, we have the chance to reduce climate risk, enhance water security, reverse biodiversity declines and create millions of rural jobs.

None of these strategies are easy. But by eliminating deforestation, improving fire management investing in restoration, we have the chance to enhance our resilience in the face of changing climate, reducing climate risk, reversing biodiversity declines and enhancing water security. Most importantly we also have the opportunity to create millions of jobs for rural communities.

As we start new decade, it is imperative that we commit together to co-create a forest-positive future.

This article is related to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21-24 January 2020.

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2020/01/23/australian-wildfires-reinforce-the-need-to-protect-forests-heres-how/#2099db675452

Australia fires: NSW towns cut off by bushfire as Queensland residents told to leave

Fire north of Batemans Bay on the New South Wales south coast doubles in size, burning through more than 11,560 hectares
‘Absolutely suffocating’: how are you affected by smoke haze from Australia’s bushfires?

 

Residents face a nervous wait on Monday night as gusty, strong winds whip-up a blaze in the New South Wales Shoalhaven area which remains at emergency warning level.

The fire north of Batemans Bay has burnt through more than 16,000 hectares and was spreading quickly in a north-easterly direction towards coastal communities.

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Prof. Dr. Ir. H. Bambang Hero Saharjo, Bogor Agricultural University, is the foremost expert on illegal and destructive forest and land fires in Indonesia, and the winner of the 2019 Maddox Prize

12 November 2019

Maddox Prize 2019

Bambang Hero Saharjo, who is the Indonesian lead expert witness on environmentally catastrophic peatland fires has been awarded the 2019 John Maddox Prize for his courage and integrity in standing up for sound science in the face of harassment, intimidation, and law suits.

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This Is How The Million-Dollar Business Of Criminal Deforestation In The Amazon Works

BuzzFeed News visited one of the regions worst affected by fires in the Amazon to see how illegal deforestation is paving the way for a global environmental crisis.
| September 4, 2019

 

APUÍ, Brazil — A vigorous and incredibly lucrative trade in land for livestock is fueling the fires that have devastated the Amazon and caused an international outcry.

BuzzFeed News toured one of the areas most affected by fires in the Amazon and found that, according to farmers, one hectare of land cleared for cattle is changing hands for 20 times the price of the same area with standing forest.

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The Amazon, Siberia, Indonesia: A World of Fire

By 
The growing intensity of wildfires and their spread to new corners of the globe raises fears that climate change is exacerbating the dangers.

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In South America, the Amazon basin is ablaze. Halfway around the world in central Africa, vast stretches of savanna are going up in flame. Arctic regions in Siberia are burning at a historic pace.

While the Brazilian fires have grown into a full-blown international crisis, they represent only one of many significant areas where wildfires are currently burning around the world. Their increase in severity and spread to places where fires were rarely previously seen is raising fears that climate change is exacerbating the danger.

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Putin orders Russian military to fight forest fires in Siberia

The Associated Press
31 July 2019

The Russian military on Wednesday joined efforts to fight forest fires that have engulfed nearly 30,000 square kilometers of territory in Siberia and the Russian Far East — an area the size of Belgium.

The move, which includes sending military transport planes and helicopters that can drop water on fires, came after an order from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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These scientists are setting a forest on fire — and studying it with drones

By: Alexandra Witze | 28 May 2019

 

Data from the blaze in Utah could improve models of how wildfire smoke spreads.

Sometime in late June, if all goes to plan, a helicopter will hover above a thickly forested slope in Utah and set it ablaze. The goal is to clear out dead conifer trees to allow quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) to regain a foothold in this high-altitude national forest. But the blaze could also help scientists better understand wildfires.

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Clearing dead timber could prevent forest fires, experts say

by | 28 May 2019

 

A new restoration project proposed by Manti-La Sal National Forest will strip dead and diseased trees from a swath of Utah about the size of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The idea is to take out the most volatile fuel for potential wildfires which have grown in size, frequency and cost to fight.

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Warmer summer expected in the West spells bad news for forest fires

 

With the wildfire season already under way in British Columbia and Alberta, Environment Canada is predicting a long, hot summer to come.

The wildfire threat has already forced evacuations in northwestern Alberta and central British Columbia, and the preliminary outlook for this summer points to worsening conditions, said David Phillips, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist.

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Weather conditions remain a concern for northern Alberta firefighters but crews keeping flames at bay

By: The Canadian Press |
Chris Schwarz/The Canadian Press

 

Warmer temperatures, gusty winds and no rain continued to cause unpredictable conditions for firefighters in northern Alberta on Monday, but officials said measures to keep flames away from threatened communities were working.

The largest blaze in northern Alberta remained about three kilometres southwest of High Level, where crews have been bulldozing, back-burning and water bombing to ensure flames don’t creep closer to the town.

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