Wildfires create 20 per cent of global carbon emissions and the figure will rise to 30% by the end of the century, according to Dryad Networks.
Wildfires are wrongly categorised as natural disasters and therefore not included in global carbon emissions reporting, despite the fact that 80 per cent are caused by humans and the fact that there is much more governments can do to prevent them.
The extent of wildfire emissions is often miscalculated or underestimated. Wildfires are consistently discounted from countries’ CO2 emissions reporting as they’re written off as carbon neutral ‘natural phenomena’. However, with wildfires mostly caused by humans and the fact that carbon neutrality is reliant on forest re-growth, which can take over 100 years, Dryad argues that omitting emissions from global CO2 inventories is both inaccurate and cynical and leads to inaction on tackling a significant emitter.
“CO2 is 3.7 times heavier than Carbon, which means that when we measure the amount of Carbon emitted by wildfires and compare that to the CO2 emissions of other sectors, we are under-representing the severity of the wildfire problem by a factor of 3.7,” said Dryad CEO Carsten Brinkschulte.
“The most common statistic that gets thrown around is from 2021 and states that wildfires emit 1.76 billion metric tonnes of carbon globally. That figure is then used interchangeably with CO2. However when calculated correctly, global CO2 emissions of wildfires are 6.5 billion metric tonnes.”
At present, government wildfire funds mostly focus on firefighting rather than detection or prevention. Deployment of new, affordable wildfire detection technology can detect fires earlier when they are still easy to extinguish, drastically reduces CO2 emissions.
Dryad, provider of solar-powered environmental sensor networks for wildfire detection, calculates that deploying 120million of its sensors worldwide by 2030 could cumulatively save up to 3.9m hectares of forest from burning and prevent 1.7bn tons of CO2 emissions.
Wildfire prevention could form part of the carbon credit framework, put forward by the US at the conference to help fund the energy transition of developing countries and contribute to loss and damage compensation. By applying detection technology to wildfire-prone forested areas in developing countries, carbon credits could be awarded per wildfire prevention, with sensor and IoT technology making detection reliable, and data led.
At COP27 top emitters including the power sector, heavy industry, transport and intensive agriculture had dedicated days during the two-week conference. But despite contributing 6.5 billion tonnes of CO2 to total global emissions annually, wildfires were not sufficiently addressed.
“When strengthening global commitments to fight climate change, investing more in wildfire prevention should be high on the agenda. We must minimise the risk of extreme wildfires by raising awareness of their increasing severity and increasing contribution to global carbon emissions,” said Brinkschulte.
“We strongly believe that it is key to include CO2 emissions caused by wildfires in national emissions budgets. Without greater awareness of the issue, it will be difficult to drive the investment and technology up-take needed to protect the world’s largest carbon sink and to ensure we keep 1.5C alive.”