Indonesia’s forest and land fire under control, while global forest fire surge fueling global emissions

Jakarta – The Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry reported lower areas burnt by forest fires this year compared to 2019, attributing it to successful fire management efforts.

The Director of Land and Forest Fire Control, Thomas Nifinluri, during an annual evaluation and forest management planning event in East Java, reported significant challenges in managing forest and land fires in 2023, surpassing the difficulties faced in 2019. He said that despite these challenges, intensified by the El Niño phenomenon, there are indications of progress in controlling these fires.

From January to October 2023, Indonesia witnessed forest and land fires ravaging 994,313 hectares, less than the 1,649,258 hectares affected in 2019. The BMKG (Meteorological, Climatological, and Geophysical Agency) forecasts that El Niño will persist until early 2024, suggesting continued vigilance in fire management efforts.

Nifinluri said that while 2023 saw an uptick in the area affected by fires compared to 2022, the situation remains more controlled compared to previous years, especially those impacted by El Niño. South Kalimantan Province bore the brunt of these fires, with 187,574 hectares affected.

Surge in extreme forest fires drives global CO2 emissions.

A report from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), reviewed by Nature, showed that between 2001 and 2022, global forest fires emitted 33.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), surpassing annual fossil fuel emissions in Japan, the world’s sixth-largest CO2 emitter.

Xu Wenru, a landscape ecologist at CAS, defines “extreme forest fires” as those that burn over larger areas, last longer, and have more significant impacts than average fires. This increasing emission trend is particularly noted in rainforest fringes and boreal forests.

The report said that heatwaves and droughts, exacerbated by climate change, are partly responsible for the increased frequency of forest fires. Moreover, human activities, such as careless use of fire and fireworks, contribute significantly to this rise. This feedback loop between CO2 emissions from fires and global warming is a growing concern.

Zhou Tianjun, a meteorologist at CAS, highlights that the area of forests lost to fires between 2001 and 2022 is 11 times greater than that of forests planted in the same period. Ten extreme forest fire incidents between 2018 and 2023, primarily in countries with vast forest areas like Russia, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and Indonesia, have significantly contributed to CO2 emissions.

Canada’s 2023 forest fires, the worst on record, burned 18.5 million hectares and emitted over 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2, exceeding the country’s total forest fire emissions in the past 22 years.

Wang Yuhang, an atmospheric scientist, forecasts a 20% increase in global burnt area by the 2050s compared to the 2000s, with fire carbon emissions potentially doubling. This highlights the urgent need for countries to include forest fire emissions in their climate plans and establish monitoring and verification systems.

Xu emphasises that the significant CO2 emissions from forest fires are now a crucial factor in global climate considerations, underscoring the need for immediate and effective action. (nsh)

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