Scientists urge global actions amid monstrous Canada wildfire emissions

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Photo: Marcus Kauffman
SHENYANG/OTTAWA. KAZINFORM As Canada is bracing for «higher-than-normal fire activity» this summer with hundreds of blazes still burning with fervor, scientists have warned that increasing wildfire emissions will exacerbate climate warming, calling for globally collaborated measures in this regard.

The massive carbon emissions from these wildfires have already exceeded 700 million tons and are expected to rise in the coming weeks, Xinhua reports.

UNPRECEDENTED FIRE

With tremendous plumes of smoke sent into the atmosphere, Canada is grappling with its worst wildfire season on record. By Thursday there are 907 active wildfires in Canada with 572 of them classified as «out of control,» according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center (CIFFC).

The scale of the wildfires is unprecedented, with over 90,000 square km of land already burned, said the CIFFC. That exceeds the previous record of some 76,000 square km set in 1989, according to official data.

Natural Resources Canada said earlier this month that due to long-range forecasts for warm temperatures and ongoing drought, most recent projections indicate a continued potential for higher-than-normal fire activity across most of the country throughout the 2023 wildland fire season.

The smoke generated by the fires shrouded regions from British Columbia to Quebec, blanketed a large portion of the United States and even made their way across the Atlantic to Europe by late June, triggering weeks of air quality alerts and jeopardizing residents' health.

«Smoke is really dangerous for humans and wildlife because if the very small particulates in smoke get into our lungs and bloodstream, they are difficult for bodies to handle,» said Karen Hodges, a professor in ecology at the University of British Columbia.

Hodges said that the overall impact of wildfire on the ecosystem is a long-lasting change in water flow, in the trees and plants that grow there and also in habitat quality for wildlife.

On top of that, the professor noted, wildfire releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to the exacerbation of global warming.

SOARING EMISSIONS

Canada's unprecedented wildfires have already emitted 724 million tons of carbon dioxide by July 1, Liu Zhihua, a researcher from the Shenyang-based Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua.

«This is a huge number,» Liu said, noting the wildfire emissions have already exceeded emissions from fossil fuel consumption in Germany in 2021, which stood at around 670 million tons and ranked 7th among all countries.

Liu's latest study showed that if the current trend continues, it is estimated that wildfire emissions in Canada will reach 1 billion tons in the coming weeks.

The emissions will increase the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and accelerate climate warming, the researcher said, adding that with climate warming, forest fires are becoming more frequent, more severe and larger, which will further affect Earth's climate.

«In recent years, there have been frequent extreme forest fire events, including the 2019 Amazon wildfires, the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires, the 2022 Siberian wildfires, and this year's Canadian wildfires,» Liu said.

Forest fires emit around 1.5 billion tons of CO2 per year, Liu said, noting with increasing fire intensity and burned area, emissions from forest fires are increasing at a speed of around 1 percent per year.

In 2021, nearly 1.76 billion tons of CO2 were released from burning boreal forests in North America and Eurasia, 150 percent higher than annual mean CO2 emissions between 2000 and 2020, a research paper published in Science magazine said.

Increasing numbers of extreme boreal fires and stronger climate-fire feedback challenge climate mitigation efforts, read the paper titled «Record-high CO2 emissions from boreal fires in 2021.»

GLOBAL COLLABORATION

For individual countries, effective measures should be taken to mitigate CO2 emissions from natural processes, said Liu, adding in the case of wildfire, strategies such as fuel treatment and improved forest management can be used to limit fire intensity and subsequently reduce CO2 emissions.

China, for example, has made significant progress in forest fire prevention, Liu said, noting forest fires have decreased significantly in China since 2000.

«The annual burned forest is around 750 square km between 2000 and 2022, emitting only a few million tons of CO2 per year. Considering China's vast forested area of 2.2 million square km, it is a significant contribution to global CO2 reduction,» Liu said.

Restoration after fire is also encouraged, said Hodges, because plant bodies are able to use carbon dioxide and will help remove some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Forest fire emissions affect health and contribute to climate change globally. Therefore, addressing carbon emissions from wildfire requires international collaboration, said Liu.

As forest fire has become one of the major CO2 sources, Liu said it is crucial to build better carbon emission monitoring and accounting systems, which include CO2 emissions from both human activities and natural processes, such as wildfires.

Echoing Liu, Hodges also said governments should «get far more serious about climate change and policies that reduce fossil fuel emissions, and we need to do that globally.»


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