22.09.2021 Europe

Summer wildfires emitted record amount of planet-warming CO2

© Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis
LISTEN SEP 22, 2021
© Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis

Wildfires in North America, around the Mediterranean and in Siberia caused record levels of CO2 emissions this summer, according to Copernicus, the European Union's Earth observation programme.

Heatwaves, drought conditions, and reduced soil moisture amplified by global warming have contributed to unprecedented fires in three continents this summer

Globally, forests going up in flames emitted more than 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 -- equivalent to India's annual emissions from all sources -- in July and August alone, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported on Tuesday.

2.5 billion tonnes of CO2

More than half of CO2 emissions from wildfires in July came from North America and Siberia.

"What stood out as unusual were the number of fires, the size of the area in which they were burning, their intensity, and also their persistence," said Mark Parrington, senior scientist and wildfire expert at the CAMS.

Even the Arctic Circle was on fire, releasing some 66 million tonnes of CO2 from June through August, with nearly a billion tonnes from Russia as a whole over the same period.

Fires started raging across northeastern Siberia in June and only started to abate in late August and early September, the satellite-based monitoring service reported.

Burnable area doubled

Emissions for the region from June through August were nearly double compared to the year before.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has reported that the five-year period to 2020 was "unprecedented" for fires, especially in Europe and North America.

While satellite images do not reveal how these fires started, many of the blazes early in the summer are thought to have been caused by "zombie" fires that smoulder through the winter and then reignite.

"Globally, increases in temperature and aridity have increased the length of fire seasons and doubled potential burnable area," the UN's IPCC climate science advisory panel concluded in a draft report.

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