The Joint Research Center of the European Commission has published a report outlining the severity of wildfires in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa in 2019, according to an announcement from the Commission.
The key findings of the report include:
- National reporting from different Member States showed that Spain, Portugal, and Poland recorded the highest number of wildfires in 2019.
- Romania sustained the greatest damage to its protected areas in 2019 wildfires, having 73,444 hectares of land burned, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).
- Nearly half of the total amount of burnt area in the EU occurred in key biodiversity zones such as Europe’s Natura 2000. The amount of burnt land in these biodiversity zones totaled to 159,585 hectares.
- The 2019 wildfire season was one of the best on record in terms of the prevention of accidents and loss of life; there were three casualties that had been sustained in all of the countries included in the report.
The Commission’s report detailed that 2019 had been the worst year for wildfires globally in recent history; by March 2019, which is before the regular ‘fire season’ in most countries, the EU’s average of burnt land was already about the average for the last 12 years prior to 2019.
In Europe alone, there were more than 400,000 hectares of natural land burnt as well as a record high number of nature protection areas that were affected adversely by the fires.
According to the report, climate change was one of the main factors contributing to the length and intensity of the wildfires experienced across Europe.
“For over twenty years the Joint Research Centre has worked with countries across Europe to provide the most up-to-date trends on forest fires, helping prevention efforts and lessening their devastating impacts when fires do occur. Changing weather associated with climate change is increasing the risk of forest fires around the world. Knowledge and scientific evidence are central to taking the most effective measures to prevent these fires, safeguard our forests, preserve biodiversity and protect lives,” said Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, responsible for the Joint Research Center.
Wildfires are not strictly a European problem, however; many nations across the world have been experiencing larger and worse wildfires in recent years, due to climate change in most scientific circles.
“Europeans have seen horrifying pictures of forest fires on the West coast of the US, Siberia, Australia and the Amazon region. But the fires have also hit hard the forests in Europe. Part of the answer to ensure this does not happen at such a harmful scale lies in protecting and managing our forests in a way to reduce their vulnerability to fires, allowing nature to also protect itself,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries.
The Commission’s Joint Research Center is an organization that provides key contributions to wildfire disaster risk reduction in Europe and around the world, by means of developing and using EFFIS and the Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS).