Summer 2022 saw more frequent and more intense wildfires in much of western Europe, with Spain, France and Italy particularly affected.
From 1 June through to 31 August, an estimated 6.4 megatonnes of CO2 was emitted in the EU and the UK – the highest level for these months since 2007, according to data from the CAMS Global Fire Assimilation Service.
In France alone, 62,000 hectares were destroyed from the start of the year to 3 September, six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, according to European Forest Fire Information System data.
“The scale and persistence of the fires in the southwest of Europe leading to the highest emissions for Europe in 15 years was extremely concerning throughout the summer,” said Mark Parrington, senior scientist and wildfire expert at CAMS.
“The majority of the fires occurred in places where the changing climate has increased flammability of the vegetation such as in southwestern Europe, and as we have seen in other regions in other years,” he added.
Fire weather, the combination of heat, dry conditions and wind, that sparks wildfires, is not new to the Mediterranean. However, climate change is exacerbating these factors, creating more intense, less controllable fires, and driving these conditions into central and northern Europe.
Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany all saw wildfires this summer. In Germany, the amount of area burnt almost doubled the previous record and was significantly higher than the 2006-2021 average.
A recent report on climate disasters called on EU leaders to change their approach to tackling wildfires in order to reduce the risk of intense blazes that grow out of control.
The Interconnected Disaster Risks Report urged policymakers to consider old fire management techniques, such as letting small areas burn or grazing sheep or goats, to get rid of underbrush that could fuel mega-fires.
It also called for improved communication between agencies, like forestry and fire authorities, involving the private sector, civil society and communities in fire management planning and designing communities better to ensure space between fire risk areas and homes.
To address the situation, the EU has already proposed several changes to its land management legislation. Those include changes to the EU’s nature restoration law, which is a “key tool for adaptation and mitigation efforts as nature lessens the impact of natural disasters such as floods, droughts and heat waves,” the spokesperson said.
Fires across the world
Other parts of the globe also saw devastating fires. While the far east of Russia saw fewer blazes than in recent years, central and westerly regions of the country experienced high numbers of fires that led to several days of thick smoke and impacted air quality.
The total emissions from fires in the Central Federal District of Russia bordering Ukraine and Belarus were the highest since large peat fires, which hit the country in 2010, according to CAMS.
Meanwhile, North America saw fires start burning in Alaska in May and fires burn in the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Canada through June and early July.
However, fire intensity and total emissions were much lower for western US states, compared to 2020 and 2021, and were more typical for the time of year.
In South America, though, the beginning of September saw increases in fires across the Amazon region, resulting in a large area of smoke over the continent.
In the second half of August, above-average daily fire emissions were recorded in Brazil, resulting in one of the highest total estimated emissions for the period since 2010.
Fires emissions are particularly high in the state of Amazonas, which has seen the second highest July-August totals, after 2021, of the last 20 years.