Data highlights ‘staggering’ extent of global tree loss from forest fires

Data highlights ‘staggering’ extent of global tree loss from forest fires

Data from the Global Forest Watch organisation has highlighted the huge numbers of trees lost due to forest fire in recent years.

In 2021, an area the size of Portugal was lost as the planet saw some of the most severe forest fire incidents in living memory. Russia is one of the worst-hit areas, accounting for over half of the estimating nine million hectares of tree habitat loss.

James MacCarthy, an analyst with Global Forest Watch, told the BBC: “It is staggering. It’s roughly twice what it was just 20 years ago. It is … astonishing just how much fire activity has increased over such a short amount of time.

“What’s most concerning is that fires are becoming more frequent, more severe and have the potential to unlock a lot of the carbon that’s stored in soils there.”

Climate change is seen as a key driver of these fires, with rising temperatures creating the drier conditions in which more trees burn. Forest fires are a key aspect of Nature but northern regions of the world are warming at a faster rate, leading to longer fire seasons.

In Russia, the 31% increase in fire losses in 2021 was due in part to the prolonged heatwaves that experts believe would have been practically impossible without human-induced warming. And because trees and soil act as carbon stores, their destruction leads to huge amounts of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile man-made deforestation is also exacerbating the situation, particularly in the Brazilian Amazon which recently saw a six-year high in the number of trees felled. Logging has an impact on local temperatures through the removal of evapotranspiration that helps keep temperatures cool.

With temperatures expected to rise further, there is a much greater likelihood of even worse forest fire incidents in the future.

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