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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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World’s governments plan to produce 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than can be burned under 1.5°C warming

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The world is on track to produce far more coal, oil and gas than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C, creating a “production gap” that makes climate goals much harder to reach, according to the first report to assess countries’ plans and projections for fossil fuel production.

The Production Gap Report complements the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report, which shows that country pledges fall short of the emission reductions needed to meet global temperature limits.

Countries are planning to produce fossil fuels far in excess of the levels needed to fulfil their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, which themselves are far from adequate. This overinvestment in coal, oil, and gas supply locks in fossil fuel infrastructure that will make emissions reductions harder to achieve.

“Over the past decade, the climate conversation has shifted. There’s greater recognition of the role that the unfettered expansion of fossil fuel production plays in undermining climate progress,” said Michael Lazarus, a lead author on the report and the director of Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center. “This report shows, for the first time, just how big the disconnect is between Paris temperature goals and countries’ plans and policies for coal, oil, and gas production. It also shares solutions, suggesting ways to help close this gap through domestic policies and international cooperation.”

The report was produced by leading research organizations, including the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), International Institute for Sustainable Development, Overseas Development Institute, CICERO Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Climate Analytics, and UNEP. Over fifty researchers contributed to the analysis and review, spanning numerous universities and additional research organizations.

In the report preface, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen notes that carbon emissions have remained exactly at the levels projected a decade ago, under the business-as-usual scenarios used in Emissions Gap Reports.

“This calls for a sharpened, and long overdue, focus on fossil fuels,” she writes. “The world’s energy supply remains dominated by coal, oil and gas, driving emission levels that are inconsistent with climate goals. To that end, this report introduces the fossil fuel production gap, a new metric that clearly shows the gap between increasing fossil fuel production and the decline needed to limit global warming.”

The report’s main findings include:

  • The world is on track to produce about 50% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.
  • This production gap is largest for coal. Countries plan to produce 150% more coal in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C, and 280% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.
  • Oil and gas are also on track to exceed carbon budgets, with continued investment and infrastructure locking in use of these fuels, until countries are producing between 40% and 50% more oil and gas by 2040 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C.
  • National projections suggest that countries are planning on 17% more coal, 10% more oil and 5% more gas production in 2030 than consistent with NDC implementation (which itself is not enough to limit warming to 1.5°C or 2°C).

Countries have numerous options for closing the production gap, including limiting exploration and extraction, removing subsidies, and aligning future production plans with climate goals. The report details these options, as well as those available through international cooperation under the Paris Agreement.

The authors also emphasize the importance of a just transition away from fossil fuels.

“There is a pressing need to ensure that those affected by social and economic change are not left behind,” said report author and SEI Research Fellow Cleo Verkuijl. “At the same time, transition planning can build consensus for more ambitious climate policy.”

The Production Gap Report comes as more than 60 countries have already committed to updating their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which set out their new emission reduction plans and climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, by 2020.

“Countries can use this opportunity to integrate strategies to manage fossil fuel production into their NDCs – which in turn will help them reach emission reduction goals,” said Niklas Hagelberg, UNEP’s climate change coordinator.

“Despite more than two decades of climate policy making, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever,” said SEI’s Executive Director, Måns Nilsson. “This report shows that governments’ continued support for coal, oil and gas extraction is a big part of the problem. We’re in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging.”

About the UN Environment Programme

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

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Greening the blue: championing coastal climate solutions

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They call them ‘blue forests’—and they are among the most productive and valuable habitats on Earth.

Mangroves might not look like much to some, but these humble salt-loving species are vital to coastal ecosystems and communities the world over. They are a crucial breeding habitat for aquatic wildlife—with some 75 per cent of commercially fished species either spending part of their life cycle in mangrove ecosystems or depending on the habitat for food. They also protect the coasts themselves, with their dense root systems acting as natural buffers against storm surges.

However, it’s their potential in the fight against climate change that is making mangroves the new superstars of coastal conservation efforts.

“Mangroves and other ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems like sea grasses and salt marshes are incredibly efficient at storing carbon,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) international waters expert Isabelle Vanderbeck says.

“They can absorb and store as much as 10 times as much carbon as terrestrial ecosystems—so it goes without saying that they are a critical part of efforts to overcome climate change.”

But despite their value to the environment and coastal economies alike, globally mangroves are being lost at an alarming rate — three to five times faster than other forests.

“Over one third of the world’s mangroves have been lost over the last 100 years,” Vanderbeck says. “It’s a trend that has to stop now if the species and communities that depend on them are to survive.”

Nature-based climate solutions

However, growing recognition of mangroves’ role in both mitigating and adapting to climate change, combined with a growing global market for carbon offsets, is providing a lifeline for mangrove ecosystems the world over.

With backing from the Global Environment Facility, the Blue Forests Project—a collaboration between UNEP and GRID-Arendal—is working with partners across eight countries to test ‘blue carbon’ and other nature-based climate solutions, setting the stage for countries to help countries fulfil the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement by upscaling these approaches globally.

“Through the Blue Forests Project, we are exploring how coastal carbon and ecosystem services can be harnessed to fight climate change, boost conservation and provide sustainable livelihoods,” Steven Lutz, project coordinator at GRID-Arendal, says.

“Blue Forests builds on ‘blue carbon’ market success.” Lutz says. “Our partner site in Gazi Bay, Kenya is the world’s first working blue carbon’ market project, where carbon finance has been supporting communities to conserve and restore mangrove forests for the past few years. Profit from the Gazi Bay project also supports community development activities such as the building of freshwater wells.”

Blue carbon goes global

Just last month, the project celebrated its latest milestone, with the launch of the world’s largest community-based mangrove carbon finance conservation initiative in Madagascar in partnership with Blue Ventures.

Under the project—dubbed ‘Tairy Honko’, or ‘preserving mangroves’ in the local Vezo dialect—communities across the Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area in Madagascar’s remote southwest are uniting to restore and conserve over 1,200 hectares of mangroves.

Together with blue carbon sales in Vanga Bay and Gazi Bay in Kenya, achieved in partnership with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, the Madagascar project represents an expansion of the market for blue carbon offsets by an order of magnitude, with Blue Forests having brought a total 1,500 hectares of mangrove forests to the voluntary carbon market.

“Over 1,500 hectares of mangrove forests are now available on the voluntary carbon market, Lutz says. “With support from the Global Environment Facility and partners, the Blue Forests Project has been able to expand the carbon market for blue carbon offsets by over an order of magnitude.”

The Tahiry Honko initiative is set to offset global emissions, with verified ‘blue carbon’ credit sales providing the funds needed to support local management of the marine protected area and finance community development, including infrastructure, healthcare and education.

“We inherited these mangroves from our ancestors, providing materials we need to survive,” Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area Association member Joel François says. “I want to ensure we can pass these forests on to our children.”

“Through the Blue Forests Project, we have been able to demonstrate that the carbon market can work to achieve goals in sustainable development and the mitigation of climate change”, Isabelle Vanderbeck says. “Next steps include supporting countries to include blue carbon solutions in national pledges to fulfil the Paris Climate Agreement.”

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More than half of EU consumers have environmental impact in mind when shopping

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Today the European Commission released its 2019 edition of the Consumer Conditions Scoreboard. It shows that the overall gap in consumer conditions is narrowing between the different regions of the EU; that consumers are more aware about their environmental footprint; and that consumer rules enable trust in the marketplace.

Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: “The latest figures show that over 70% of consumers trust retailers to respect their rights, but they also show that work to improve consumer conditions and trust must continue. And the New Deal for Consumers will indeed further strengthen the hand of consumers and authorities. I am glad to see that consumers are increasingly aware of their environmental footprint when shopping. As the Christmas season approaches, I encourage all consumers to engage with trustworthy traders, know their rights, and indeed buy responsibly.”

Main findings:

Amid growing awareness of climate warming and global plastic contamination, the survey finds that an increasing proportion of EU consumers consider the environmental impact of their purchases. The more environmentally conscious EU consumers are those in southern (59%) and eastern European countries (57%). A clear majority of retailers (71%) think that environmental claims made for products or services in their sector are reliable.

Consumer conditions decline in western Europe, but continue to improve in other parts of the EU, with southern and eastern EU countries narrowing the gap with the EU average. However, the difference between the highest scoring country (Sweden, with 71%) and the lowest (Croatia, with 53%) remains significant.

Over 70% of EU consumers trust retailers to respect their consumer rights. Mirroring this trend, more than 70% of retailers find it easy to comply with consumer legislation. In addition, most EU retailers assess positively the enforcement of consumer and product safety legislation in their sector. The highest marks go to enforcement of product safety legislation, where three quarters of retailers appreciate the monitoring work of public authorities.

Consumers buying online has reached around 60% in 2018 and continues to progress in spite of strong disparities ranging from 84% in Denmark to around 20% in Romania and Bulgaria. However, consumers’ trust in buying cross-border from other EU countries (48%) is significantly lower than in domestic online buying (72%).  

Background

The Consumer Conditions Scoreboard monitors national conditions for consumers in three areas:

1. knowledge and trust

2. compliance and enforcement

3. complaints and dispute resolution

It also examines progress in the integration of the EU retail market and in e-commerce. Its main data sources are representative surveys with consumers and with retailers in EU Member States, as well as Iceland and Norway.

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