2020 forest fires globally could be worse than 2019, WWF warns

Posted on August, 27 2020

Deforestation is one of the leading causes of fires in the Amazon and many tropical and sub-tropical countries. Expansion of agriculture, tree plantations and illegal and unsustainable logging continue to drive conversion and degradation of natural habitats, thereby increasing the risk of fires.
In a new report released today, WWF and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) warn that fire seasons are getting longer, and extreme forest fires more common, and 2020 could see even more wildfires than last year, already a record year for fires. 

The latest fire seasons have been raging with unprecedented ferocity, from the Amazon to the Arctic. In April this year, the number of fire alerts across the globe were up by 13% compared to last year, which was already a record year for fires. Persistent hotter and drier weather due to climate change and deforestation caused primarily by land conversion for agriculture are the main drivers.  

If current trends continue, there will be devastating long-term consequences due to the release of millions of extra tonnes of carbon, and fires will decimate biodiversity, destroy vital ecosystems, impact economies, threaten property and livelihoods, and cause severe long-term health problems for millions around the world.

Fran Price, Global Lead for Forests at WWF said: “The world witnessed the devastating consequences of the fires last year, from billions of wildlife lost and people losing their homes and livelihoods, not to mention the impact on climate. Proactivity and commitment must be at the heart of a global response to fires that must play out at local, sub-national, national and regional levels. Preventing fires before they occur is paramount, and far preferable in all respects to suppressing them when they’re burning. Meanwhile, good intentions on paper mean nothing if they’re not followed up with real and effective actions on the ground – and these actions need to focus on forests, where the fire crisis is at its worst.”

Jesper Nielsen, Managing Director and Senior Partner at BCG, said: “The time has never been more critical for climate action. At least 75% of fires are due to human activities. Climate change is largely contributing to this worsening situation. As fires also reinforce global warming, a vicious circle is taking place that needs to be broken. A better focus on prevention and protection measures, especially for forests, is certainly part of the answer. Governments and businesses need to put together a coordinated global response in line with the importance and urgency of the fires issue, before there is irreversible damage for our planet.”

The very significant consequences of these fires provide even more reason for all governments to raise their ambition on climate change action in their national climate and emission reduction plans (called Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs). Countries have the opportunity to do so in 2020 when they are due to submit revised, ambitious NDCs to the UN. We also need to see more action from governments, companies and consumers to reduce emissions and  halt deforestation. 

Fires in Capixaba, in the Brazilian state of Acre, August 2020.
© Odair Leal / WWF Brasil