Scientists Call for Global Collaboration to Reduce Carbon Emissions by Preventing Forest Fires
A new report by Chinese scientists, released on December 7 in northeast China’s Shenyang city, has urged enhanced prevention and management of extreme forest fires, stronger scientific research, and more international cooperation on fire carbon emissions in order to address global climate change.
The report, “Blue Book on Forest Fire Carbon Emissions Research (2023)” (hereinafter, “the Blue Book”), was jointly completed by scientists from several institutes under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), as well as other organizations.
Scientists presented the latest global research on carbon emissions from forest fires over the past 22 years in “the Blue Book” and evaluated the global environmental impact of extreme forest fires during this period.
“Forest fires are a common disturbance process in forest ecosystems, significantly impacting the forest composition, structure, and succession, thereby altering the material cycling and energy flow in forest ecosystems,” said XU Wenru, one of the lead authors of the Blue Book and also a researcher at the Shenyang Institute of Applied Ecology of CAS.
Between 2001 and 2022, forest fires burned an average of 46.95 million hectares globally each year, or 11 times the average annual increase in plantation areas during the same period. Global average annual CO2 emissions from forest fires reached 1.54 billion tons over this period, thus contributing to an increase of 4.35 ppm (parts per million) in atmospheric CO2 concentration. This represents a significant carbon emission source that cannot be ignored, according to the Blue Book.
The study also identified a noticeable spatial difference in global forest fire CO2 emissions, with an increase in CO2 emissions from northern high latitude regions. Data shows that forest fire CO2 emissions in Canada and the United States over the 22-year period were 1.374 billion tons and 1.129 billion tons, respectively.
Frequent extreme forest fires are a cause of the increase in global forest fire carbon emissions, the Blue Book suggests.
The carbon emissions from Canadian forest fires in 2023 exceeded 1.5 billion tons, surpassing total CO2 emissions from Canadian forest fires over the entire previous 22-year period. “This severely weakened the carbon sink function of forest ecosystems,” said XU.
Statistics also show that Canadian forest fires produced 10.02 million tons of PM2.5 from May to August 2023, 6.5 times the average emissions during the same period over the previous 20 years. The environmental pollution caused by Canadian forest fires not only affected the entire country but also, through atmospheric circulation, extended to other regions globally, significantly impacting air quality in large parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
From 2001 to 2022, China’s annual average CO2 emissions from forest fires were 10 million tons, showing a clear downward trend, thanks to its long-term forest fire prevention and control policies.
The scientists put forward insights and suggestions in the Blue Book for global forest fire carbon emissions management and called for the establishment of a comprehensive carbon accounting system that would include natural processes such as forest fires.
They also suggested incorporating risk prevention and the control of forest fire carbon emissions into the forest sink carbon trading system, as well as establishing a fair and reasonable responsibility sharing mechanism for reducing emissions.