Open biomass burning
Action 7.2: Managing risks of wildfires on forest and peatland
Wildfires represent a combination of anthropogenic and natural events that are triggered especially during high fire hazard conditions.
7.2b Further develop and exchange of good practice in Monitoring and surveillance systems of wildfires
7.2c Capacity and skills to fight wildfires as part of disaster risk management
7.2b Establishment and improvements of monitoring and inventories
7.2c Funding of research, independent analysis and innovation; Information and guidance
7.2b National authorities responsible for disaster risk reduction,
emergency management and civil protection, organisations
conducting research and monitoring
7.2c National authorities responsible for disaster risk reduction, emergency management and civil protection, Arctic Council, international organisations and initiatives
It has been estimated that approximately half of all wildfires in Canada are caused by humans (Canadian Council of Forest Ministers 2016). In the US up to 85% of wildfires have been attributed to human action (Balch et al. 2017). In more sparsely populated areas the percentage is lower, but still significant, for example in British Columbia 40% of the wildfires are caused by anthropogenic activities. Also in Sweden the share of wildfires caused by humans is significant (Sjöström and Granström 2020). High proportions of wildfires elsewhere in Europe are also caused by human activities (JRC 2019). Exposure to wildfire smoke is a serious health concern, particularly for small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with lung or heart conditions. It is estimated that 339 000 premature deaths worldwide are attributed to exposure to wildfire smoke each year (Johnston et al. 2012). The most extensive wildfires on the Northern Hemisphere occur in Russia and Canada, but many other countries have experienced serious consequences of wildfires (Jolly et al. 2015). Near human settlements wildfires are a serious threat to health and livelihoods and efforts to prevent, control and manage wildfires is therefore a priority in disaster prevention and control.
In its 2019 report the EGBCM has recognised that wildfires should be addressed to reduce emissions of black carbon globally. The EGBCM recommended the following activities, all relevant for the three key components we have identified within this action:
- Build and maintain international mutual aid and resource exchange arrangements among Arctic nations that have specialised experience in wildfire management, suppression, and monitoring in boreal forests (Component 7.2c);
- Develop region-specific public education campaigns on wildfire prevention and safety (Component 7.2a);
- Develop and implement regionally appropriate forest management practices that reduce the risk of severe wildfires (Component 7.2a);
- Use the best available science to prediction models to predict fire activity at daily to decadal scales to support drafting of prevention and emergency response plans (Components 7.2a & 7.2c).
Wildfire-related issues have been historically addressed by national or sub-national authorities responsible for disaster risk management and emergency situations. These authorities are focused on the elimination and minimisation of the immediate risks rather than on the environmental consequences of their actions in the long run. Emphasising black carbon emissions and effects related to the wildfire management could develop a new perspective among people directly or indirectly engaged in wildfire management.
Component 7.2a. Sharing information systems and awareness raising
A key component in the prevention of wildfires is information systems and campaigns for awareness raising that use fire indices and warning systems (Costa et al. 2011, Holsten et al. 2013). This could include information brochures spread among population, social advertising, or educational events for forest managers, focused on the management aspects and techniques that could minimise the risk for wildfires. Within the awareness raising activities it would be very appropriate to emphasise synergies between the direct social and economic benefits from wildfire prevention or effective suppression (houses, goods, crops not destroyed, mortalities avoided) and the avoided adverse health and climate effects from wildfire-related black carbon emissions. Rising concerns on prevention of harmful emissions among general public and forest managers could create additional motivation to develop less wildfire-risky behaviour and to follow good forest management routines, including early season prescribed burning to reduce fuel loads and outreach to the public to communicate why off-season planned burning reduces fire risk.
Component 7.2b. Monitoring and surveillance systems of wildfires
Monitoring and surveillance systems that help to detect fires at a stage when they are still manageable are important as operational tools that can assist the actual firefighting activities. There are several organisations that work with monitoring and surveillance of wildfires. None of these systems, however, have technology that include parameters such as cloud cover, small fires, peat fires, open burning in croplands, or early and late season fires. Therefore, many of current monitoring and surveillance systems of wildfires could be considered insufficient. To establish a more reliable monitoring and surveillance system, there is a need for improved satellite and ground-based observation network for the boreal and the Arctic, co-produced with Indigenous and local populations who are living with the fire risk.
The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) conducts global fire monitoring with near-realtime observation. This monitoring system includes estimation of emissions of pollutants. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service rely on Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer methods, which have limitations on for example detecting smouldering fires. The service to project forest fires in the EU and neighbouring countries is given by the European Forest Fire Information System. The European Forest Fire Information System also relies on the above-mentioned methods to provide short- and long-term fire weather forecasts and services on suppressing forest fires.
Another organisation that works with both scientific research and communication is the Global Fire Monitoring Center which also serves as a coordinator and facilitator for the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Wildland Fire Advisory Group and the Global Wildland Fire Network. The organisation publishes information on wildfires such as early warnings, global fire information, management support, and has an emergency hotline together with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Monitoring of wildfires can contribute to tools used for estimations on emissions from wildfires to build more science and knowledge on emissions and long-range transport of black carbon from the places where fires occur to the areas where air quality is affected (including the Arctic region). Early detection of wildfires enables more effective fire suppression, indirectly reducing emissions of black carbon and other pollutants. Further, exchange of good practice is a way to expediate the development of monitoring and surveillance.
Component 7.2c. International development of capacity to fight wildfires as part of disaster risk management
The third component is the capacity and skills to fight wildfires as part of disaster risk management – with respect to specific characteristics of the Arctic region. Wildland fire fighting techniques that are deemed appropriate for the boreal will differ from the techniques optimal for the Arctic and in thawing permafrost, because these are more fragile systems.
Building up capacity and skills is often a part of the education programmes for fire experts, developed by national emergency management authorities. These activities are also relevant for the international level of action. For example, the Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group within the Arctic Council has so far largely focused on marine safety but is now increasingly paying attention to wildfires. This development could open up new connections between policy areas in the Arctic.
The European Forest Fire Information System, the European Commission Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre are examples of activities that aim to integrate, implement and share scientific knowledge and practical experience regarding forest fires. Another example is the Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network that has the aim to support experts, practitioners, policymakers, researchers, trainers and volunteers at every stage of disaster management – through networking, partnerships, and collaborative opportunities with the access to expertise and good practices. Globally, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 is a network with the aim to “guide the multi-hazard management of disaster risk in development at all levels as well as within and across all sectors”.
Building an international expert network for information exchange and experience sharing, programmes and seminars on wildfire management could substantially improve professional skills and readiness to suppress emerging wildfires, in this way contributing to the progress in reducing emissions of black carbon. It is important to consider that building capacity to fight fires in the Arctic will require new research on techniques effective in tundra landscapes. Increasing capacity and skills to fight wildfires as part of disaster risk management includes outreach to Indigenous communities, who have traditional knowledge about these fire regimes.