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Climate negotiators, we need to talk about wildfires


Amsterdam, The Netherlands – Wildland fires make a huge contribution to climate change and some countries fail to adequately monitor or report emissions from them, according to a new report “Lost in smoke: wildland fire climate impact” released by Greenpeace International today. If we keep ignoring the climate impacts of fires, we will struggle to get on a pathway that limits warming to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C.

According to the research, gross wildland fire CO2 emissions may be equivalent to nearly 8Gt CO2  – more than twice the output of the EU’s combined fossil fuel industries in 2016 – equivalent to nearly 25% of global annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. [1]

“Human induced climate change is fueling fires, fires speed up climate change – it’s time to break the cycle,” said Anton Beneslavskiy, a Wildland fire project leader with Greenpeace Russia. “Wildland fires are a threat, but also an opportunity. Because most fires in e.g. Brazil, Russia and Indonesia are caused by people, they can be prevented and a huge amount of emissions avoided.”

The report provides case studies about some of the most forested countries in the world: Brazil, Russia and Indonesia. These countries have vast areas of tropical and boreal forests and are key areas of concern due to fires and climate change. Yet these countries are consistently under-reporting CO2 emissions from fires. For example, Russia does not report emissions from forest fires across 23% of the nation’s forests. [2] This means emissions from fires in nearly a quarter of Russia’s forests go unreported.

CO2 emissions from fires in Brazil, Russia and Indonesia are seriously underestimated through a combination of ineffective monitoring and inaccurate reporting. Black carbon emissions and the impacts of the loss of carbon sink potential when ecosystems are destroyed by fire are not accounted for, according to the report. Without accurate reporting the problem remains invisible and we cannot act towards limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C.

Greenpeace is calling for decision-makers at the global and national level to urgently address the accelerating effects of fires as a driver of climate change. The IPCC should provide guidance on how to calculate burned areas, close loopholes that allow governments to exclude carbon emissions from fires on loosely defined unmanaged lands, and require black carbon emissions in national reporting.


[1] van der Werf, G. R., Randerson, J. T., Giglio, L., van Leeuwen, T. T., Chen, Y., Rogers, B. M., Mu, M., van Marle, M. J. E., Morton, D. C., Collatz, G. J., Yokelson, R. J., and Kasibhatla, P. S. (2017): Global fire emissions estimates during 1997–2016, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 9, 697-720,

[2] Russian Federation inventory report to UNFCCC, 14 Apr 2018, p.225,

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