Sydney Morning Herald, August 14, 2009
Greenpeace has warned of an imminent "global emergency" as climate change fuels forest fires that have already destroyed tens of thousands of hectares in southern Europe this year.
"Climate change is driving a new generation of fires with unknown social and economic consequences," said Miguel Soto, Greenpeace Spain forests campaigner.
Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal have been among the countries worst hit by wildfires that swept across southern Europe in July amid sizzling temperatures and fierce winds.
Europe as a whole has lost some 200,000 hectares of forest to fires so far this summer, far more than the whole of 2008, when 158,621 hectares were destroyed, the EU said on Monday.
In Spain, fires have ravaged about 75,000 hectares of land this year, almost double the number for the whole of 2008, the Government in Madrid said.
"Forest fires are becoming more intense and out of control in Spain and across southern Europe, as well as in other semi-arid regions such as California and Australia," Soto told reporters on Thursday at the launch of their report on the issue.
"With climate models predicting increased heat waves in the coming years, we are fast approaching a global emergency."
The Greenpeace report said heat waves and drier land caused by climate change have combined with "land use changes, abandonment of rural areas and a lack of management of forest areas" to make forests "more flammable, leading to ever larger and more uncontrollable fires".
In a "vicious cycle" the fires also contribute to the climate crisis as "forests are giant carbon stores and when they are burnt massive amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted to the atmosphere".
It warned of more fires in many regions, not just in southern Europe but in parts of the Amazon and the Boreal Forest, a belt of coniferous trees that runs almost continuously across North America and Eurasia.
Christoph Ties, Greenpeace International forests campaigner, appealed to world leaders to "not let our planet burn".
"We need to see them cut greenhouse gas emissions and put serious money on the table to stop deforestation. If they fail to act they will be leaving our future in the ashes."
The Greenpeace report (in Spanish) can be downloaded here -