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More countries than ever hit by forest fires in 2018

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Today, the European Commission published the 2018 edition of its Annual Report on Forest Fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. According to the report, wildfires destroyed nearly 178 000 hectares (ha) of forests and land in the EU last year. While this is less than one sixth of the area burnt in 2017, and less than the long-term average, more countries than ever before suffered from large fires.

Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, said: “Forests are vital to our efforts to tackle the climate and ecological emergency. They are our lungs and life-support system, hosting 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity. But today, like never before, they are under severe threat. 800 football fields of forest are lost every hour, and devastating fires are raging around the world. As we have shown with our recent action on deforestation, the EU stands ready to work with partner countries to protect forests in the EU and across the world through investing in forest fire prevention.”

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, responsible for the Joint Research Centre, added: “Changing weather conditions associated with climate change increase the risk for forest fires globally. We need to respond and step up our efforts to make our forests more resilient to a warmer and drier climate. Evidence provided by the Joint Research Centre allows us to focus on the most effective ways to prevent wildfires, helping us protect our forests, which is key to preserve biodiversity and citizens’ quality of life.”

Key findings

The highest numbers of fires of 30 ha or larger were mapped by the European Forest Fire Information System in Italy (147 fires, 14 649 ha burned), Spain (104 fires, 12 793 ha burned), Portugal (86 fires, 37 357 ha burned), the UK (79 fires, 18 032 ha burned) and Sweden (74 fires, 21 605 ha burned) during last year.

1. Sweden experienced the worst fire season in reporting history. The total burnt area of over 21 605 ha mapped in Sweden was registered as the second highest in the EU, an unusual position in the ranking for a northern country. Although Portugal was again the country with the highest burnt area, its total was a small fraction of the area lost to fire in 2017 and one of the lowest totals of the last 10 years.

2. Vulnerable ecosystems of the Natura 2000 network, home to several endangered plant and animal species, lost 50 000 ha to fires, accounting for 36% of the total burnt area in 2018.

3. Despite a smaller overall area burnt than in previous years, above average temperatures persisted in central and northern Europe for most of the summer. This created conditions that helped the ignition and spread of forest fires, causing high economic and environmental losses.

In 2018, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated five times to respond to forest fires in Europe: in Sweden, Greece, Latvia, and Portugal. In total, 15 planes, 6 helicopters and over 400 firefighters were mobilised in the summer, with the European Union having funded €1.6 million in transportation costs to mobilise support to the affected countries. Furthermore, over 139 Copernicus satellite maps on forest fires were produced on the request of Member States. In addition, the EU sent forest fire experts from across the EU to Portugal on a prevention and preparedness mission to help boost the country’s capacity to deal with forest fires.

In March 2019, the EU upgraded the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and launched rescEU to improve the protection of citizens from disasters and the management of emerging risks in Europe and beyond. The EU created a transition fleet of firefighting aircraft in the summer of 2019, and deployed it already twice to fight forest fires in Greece and Lebanon. Additionally, in July, the European Commission called for stepping up EU action on deforestation and forest degradation in a Communication, and committed itself to further action, including the development of the European Forest Fire Information System into a tool for wildfire monitoring on a global scale.

The 2018 edition of the Annual Report on Forest Fires also notes that in 2019 the fire season started early, because of dry and windy conditions, with high temperatures. Already by March this year, the number of fires was higher than the average for the whole year in the last decade, with numerous fires in mountain regions and critical fires in the Danube delta.

Background

The report “Forest Fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2018”, drawn up by the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, provides a detailed analysis of wildfires in 2018, including country-specific reports. The report contains data coming from the Copernicus European Forest Fire Information System as well as data coming from 33 member countries of the Expert Group on Forest Fires.

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UNESCO ‘eDNA’ initiative to ‘unlock’ knowledge for biodiversity protection

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To understand the richness of biodiversity across World Heritage marine sites, the UN scientific organization launched on Monday a project to protect and preserve biodiversity, based on the study of environmental DNA – cellular material released from living things into their surroundings. 

Launching the new programme, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that scientists and local residents would take samples of genetic material from fish waste, mucous membranes or cells, eDNA, to monitor species. 

Marine World Heritage sites play a critical role in protecting marine ecosystems of exceptional universal value and provide opportunities for the public to appreciate and preserve marine environments”, reminded UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez. 

Species under threat 

UNESCO said that the two-year initiative would help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and its impact on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across World Heritage sites. 

The eDNA project, which involves collecting and analyzing samples from the environment – such as soil, water and air – rather than an individual organism, will also better monitor and protect endangered species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.  

Climate change is affecting the behaviour and distribution of underwater life and we must understand what is happening so we can adapt our conservation efforts to evolving conditions”, explained the UNESCO official. 

Beneath the waves 

UNESCO’s marine World Heritage sites are recognized for their unique biodiversity, outstanding ecosystems, or for representing major stages in Earth’s history.  

In the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the project was launched to contribute to the understanding of global trends and knowledge to preserve marine ecosystems. 

Since 1981, when Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was inscribed at UNESCO’s first marine site, a global network of 50 others are now included as “beacons of hope for healing the ocean”, according to the UN agency. 

Guided by expert support, the eDNA project will engage local citizens to gather material, so samples such as particles gathered through water filtering, can be genetically sequenced in specialized laboratories, without having to disturb animals themselves.   

Implemented by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and World Heritage Centre, IOC chief Vladimir Ryabinin described the project as “a step toward the Ocean Decade’s vision of unlocking the knowledge we need to create the ocean we want by 2030”. 

Breaking new ground 

The use of eDNA in ocean monitoring and data collection is still in its infancy and standard protocols for sampling and data management will be streamlined in UNESCO’s groundbreaking eDNA project.  

For the first time, it will apply a consistent methodology across multiple marine protected areas simultaneously, helping establish global standards, data monitoring and management practices while making that information available to the public. 

All data will be processed and published by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the world’s largest open-access data system on the distribution and diversity of marine species, maintained and collectively supported by a worldwide network of scientists, data managers and users.  

Sustainability goal 

The project works to advance the world’s understanding of life in the ocean, and establish conservation and management policies indicators.   

“eDNA sampling can provide an innovative, affordable, and long-awaited capacity to better understand the ocean ecosystems, their composition and behaviour, and to start managing ocean resources more sustainably”, said Mr. Ryabinin. 

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Act Urgently to Preserve Biodiversity for Sustainable Future — ADB President

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The world must act urgently to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity for the sake of a sustainable future and prosperity, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa said at the opening of a global event on biodiversity here today.

“The world is at a critical turning point. If we are to reverse the alarming decline in nature, we must respond with urgency and coordinated action,” Mr. Asakawa said. “These efforts are needed to ensure the survival of our ecosystems, and for the sake of our shared future and prosperity.”  

Asia and the Pacific is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world—home to 17 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots, 7 of the 17 megadiverse countries, and the greatest marine diversity. “If restored and well-managed, these natural capital assets can help to mitigate global climate change and biodiversity loss in a cost-effective and impactful manner,” Mr. Asakawa said in his opening remarks at the Ecological Civilization Forum at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  

The event is cohosted by the PRC’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Yunnan provincial government, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Participants include high-level representatives from governments, the private sector, development agencies including ADB, and civil society. 

ADB is committed to helping accelerate and increase nature-positive investments in Asia and the Pacific. “Through our ADB Nature-Positive Investment Roadmap, we are working with partners to scale up finance, develop knowledge of natural capital, and generate financially sustainable projects that deliver on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems,” Mr. Asakawa said.

At COP15, ADB is launching a new publication, Greening Development in the People’s Republic of China, which outlines how ADB and the PRC have successfully partnered to promote green development and ecological restoration in a way that complements economic and social priorities. 

In partnership with the Chinese Academy of Science and Stanford University, ADB is sharing progress on its new Natural Capital Lab due for launch in 2022. This will be a digital platform for sharing methods for valuing biodiversity and ecosystems, and for building knowledge, capacities, and alliances across the region.  

In addition, ADB with partners will be launching the Regional Flyway Initiative that will conserve ecosystem services that support people and critical habitats for more than 50 million migratory waterbirds.

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Greenpeace Africa reacts to DRC President’s decision to suspend illegal logging concessions

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forest

The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, ordered on Friday, October 15th, the suspension of all dubious logging concessions, including the 6 granted in September 2020. Greenpeace Africa, one of the civil society organizations that denounced these concessions, applauds the decision taken by the Head of State and encourages him to remain vigilant and ensure its effective execution by Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Eve Bazaiba.

Greenpeace Africa reiterates its call for maintaining the moratorium on new industrial logging concessions to prevent a human rights and climate catastrophe. This logging sector, characterized by bad governance, favors corruption and remains out of touch with the socio-economic needs of the Congolese people and the climate crisis we live in.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Head of the International Congo Basin Forest Project of Greenpeace: “The decision of H.E. President Tshisekedi against the illegal actions of former Minister Nyamugabo sends an important message to the Congolese people and their government. It is also a red light for the plans of Ms. Ève Bazaiba, current Minister of the Environment, to open a highway to deforestation by multinational logging companies through lifting the moratorium on new industrial concessions.”

The President asks to “Suspend all questionable contracts pending the outcome of an audit and report them to the government at the next cabinet meeting.” Greenpeace Africa maintains that the review of illegalities in the forest sector must be transparent, independent, and open to comments from civil society organizations.

Ms. Wabiwa adds that “Both the protection of the rights of Congolese peoples and the success of COP26 require that the moratorium on granting new forest titles be strengthened. We again call on President Tshisekedi to strengthen the 2005 presidential decree to extend the moratorium.”

Ms. Wabiwa concludes that “instead of allowing new avenues of destruction, the DRC needs a permanent forest protection plan, taking into account the management by the local and indigenous populations who live there and depend on them for their survival.”

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