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UN warns that number of extreme wildfires will increase 30% by 2050, 50% by end of century

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Posted at 8:03 AM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 10:03:52-05

The Western U.S. has seen a disturbing increase in wildfires in recent years — blazes that have displaced thousands of people and had a devastating impact on local ecosystems.

Now, a U.N. climate report warns that those wildfires will become "more frequent and intense" in the decades ahead.

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) report, "Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires," says that there will be a 14% increase in "extreme fires" worldwide by the end of the decade.

The report also says that figure will increase to 30% by 2050 and 50% by the end of the century.

Not only does the report warn of an increase in extreme fires, but it also says the regions affected by such blazes will expand in the years to come. Even the Arctic will see an elevated risk for wildfires in the years to come.

The report says the increase in wildfires has been exacerbated by man-made climate change, which is increasing drought and raising temperatures. That leads to hotter, drier and longer fire seasons.

At the same time, the report says more extreme fires will only increase the devastating effects of climate change by "ravaging sensitive and carbon-rich ecosystems like peatlands and rainforests."

The U.N. report lays out some potential solutions for combating extreme fires moving forward. They proposed a new budget where two-thirds of funding would go to "planning, prevention, preparedness, and recovery," which includes a "combination of data and science-based monitoring systems with indigenous knowledge and for a stronger regional and international cooperation."

"Current government responses to wildfires are often putting money in the wrong place. Those emergency service workers and firefighters on the frontlines who are risking their lives to fight forest wildfires need to be supported," Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UNEP, said in a statement. "We have to minimize the risk of extreme wildfires by being better prepared: invest more in fire risk reduction, work with local communities, and strengthen global commitment to fight climate change."