Some wildfires could put global climate goals at risk

California Wildfires
Posted at 10:17 AM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 13:17:04-04

(KERO) — When wildfires burn the devastation in the area is heartbreakingly obvious. Trees and plants are destroyed, people lose homes, and some lose their lives. But forest fires can also have a global impact.

Specifically fires in the Boreal Forests, a huge area of woodlands in the Northern United States, Canada, China, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russia, and Sweden that makes up about one-third of all forests on the planet.

"From a biological perspective, boreal forests are defined as forests growing in high-latitude environments where freezing temperatures occur for 6 to 8 months and in which trees are capable of reaching a minimum height of 5 meters and a canopy cover of 10%," explains the International Boreal Forest Research Association. "It is typically comprised of coniferous tree species such as pine, spruce, and fir with some broadleaf species such as poplar and birch."

Those fires release huge quantities of carbon into the air and based on a new study published in the journal Science Advances if fires keep happening in that area -- which is what experts expect -- there would be a release of an enormous amount of planet-warming emissions.

In fact, by 2050 the study found the amount of carbon these fires could release would be equal to the annual emissions of 2.6 billion fossil fuel-powered cars.

Meanwhile, think about the size of the state of Tennessee -- about 43,000 square miles. That's how many miles of tropical forests were decimated by logging and fires last year.

An analysis by the University of Maryland shows tropical forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. When that happens there's less oxygen being released into the atmosphere and stored carbon gets churned up, putting off carbon dioxide into the air.

"Of particular concern are the 3.75 million hectares of loss that occurred within tropical primary rainforests — areas of critical importance for carbon storage and biodiversity — equivalent to a rate of 10 football pitches a minute. Tropical primary forest loss in 2021 resulted in 2.5 Gt of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India."

Top 10 countries for tropical primary forest loss in 2021

The analysis warns that forest loss is pushing the Amazon toward a tipping point where these forests could shift from absorbing carbon dioxide to emitting it. If that happens experts say any attempt to contain global warming would be "blown out of the water."