Jul 15, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Wildfires raging across Europe aggravated by climate change, EU warns

A plane drops water along a road while a fire threatens the evacuated town of Cazaux in La Teste-de-Buch, southwestern France, on July 14.
A plane drops water along a road while a fire threatens the evacuated town of Cazaux in La Teste-de-Buch, southwestern France, on Thursday. Photo: Thibaud Moritz/AFP via Getty Images

A dangerous heat wave is fueling fires across Europe and climate change is "aggravating the situation, making countries more prone to wildfires and increasing the intensity of such events," a new EU report warns.

What's happening: Thousands of firefighters are battling blazes in searing heat across the continent. The fires have forced thousands of people to evacuate in France, Spain, Portugal and Croatia, as Europe faces another potentially record-breaking heat wave for a second consecutive month.

Driving the news: Studies show that as the climate warms the frequency of heat waves dramatically increases, raising the risk of wildfires.

The big picture: The report by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, published Thursday examines how to employ integrated fire management practices across member countries.

  • Greater attention to land-based fire prevention practices should be a priority as evidence indicates climate change is potentially increasing catastrophic fires, according to the report.

Threat level: "Currently, 85% of the burned area in Europe is located in Southern Europe ... due to the higher risk weather conditions inherent to the Mediterranean region," with climate change projections showing that an average of more than a million of land burned in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece collectively annually during the past 20 years.

  • Fire danger is "increasing in non-traditionally fire-prone regions such as northwest and central Europe" and wildfire risk is even rising in northern European countries, according to the report.
  • "Next to the increase in the number of days per year with high to extreme fire danger, there will likely be an increasing impact from extreme fires across large areas, with long-term effects," the report states.
"Countries already report that the wildfire season starts earlier and finishes later in the year, putting an additional strain on wildfire fighting preparedness and response resources."
— Excerpt from EU report, "Land-based wildfire prevention

Meanwhile, Friederike Otto, co-lead of World Weather Attribution, which is a global effort on extreme event attribution, noted in a statement that climate change was driving the heat wave in Europe — along with heat waves elsewhere.

  • "Heatwaves that used to be rare are now common; heatwaves that used to be impossible are now happening and killing people," said Otto, who's also a senior climate science lecturer at Imperial College London.
  • "We saw this with the Pacific Northwest heatwave last year, which would have been almost impossible without human-caused warming."
"Heatwaves will keep getting worse until greenhouse gas emissions are halted. The longer it takes the world to reach net-zero emissions, the hotter and more dangerous heatwaves will get, and the more common and longer-lasting they will be. The only way to stop heat records being broken time and again is to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible."
— Statement from Friederike Otto, co-lead of World Weather Attribution.

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