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3rd Dec 2022

Europe's summer fires released highest emissions since 2007

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The unprecedented forest fires in the EU and the UK this summer released the largest carbon-emissions into the atmosphere since 2007, according to new figures by the EU's climate monitoring agency Copernicus released on Tuesday (6 September).

Wildfire activity, fuelled by the high temperatures, heatwaves and droughts across the continent, emitted over six megatonnes of carbon over the summer — the highest figures in 15 years.

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High emissions were largely driven by the devastating forest fires across southwestern France, Spain and Portugal.

France has seen wildfires burn over 62,000 hectares while Spain has lost almost 300,000 hectares since the start of the year. Both EU member states are expected to record their highest wildfire emissions in the last 20 years.

Slovenia, Czechia, Hungary and Germany also experienced significant wildfire activity during the summer months.

In Germany, for example, wildfires burned 4,293 hectares — almost double the previous maximum.

Overall, forest fires have burned more than 508,260 hectares over the summer months (from June to September), compared to a 2006-2021 average of 215,548 hectares for the same period. For context, a typical football pitch covers about one hectare of land.

"The scale and persistence of the fires in the southwest of Europe … was extremely concerning throughout the summer," said Mark Parrington, scientist and wildfire expert at Copernicus.

Parrington added that the majority of this summer's fires occurred in areas where the flammability of the vegetation has increased due to climate change.

Wildfires recorded this summer in North America and the Amazon area have also become a concern for experts.

An outbreak of thunderstorms caused extreme wildfires in Alaska in May that continued burning areas through June and early July — reminiscent of Alaska's worst fire season in 2004.

Yukon and other northwest territories of Canada also experienced one of the worst fire seasons in their history.

Meanwhile, the Amazon region has seen a clear increase in wildfires in the first week of September — which has resulted in a large area of smoke over South America.

The state of Amazonas, in the northern region of Brazil, registered the second-highest fire emission totals for July-August of the last 20 years (and the highest was 2021).

Increased activity of wildfires not only has an impact on carbon emissions, the fire smoke itself also produces air pollutants which can exacerbate health problems.

Wildfire smoke is estimated to cause over 339,000 premature deaths a year across the globe. 

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