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23 February 2022 Expert commentary

The United Nations Environment Programme today released the report, Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires. The report assesses the current global occurrences of wildfires and impacts on lives, livelihoods, values and infrastructure, and how these are likely to change in the future. 

A team of 52 international authors from 39 organisations and 17 countries included scientists from CSIRO, University of Oxford, University of Chile, California State University and as far afield as the Alaska Fire Science Consortium. They were engaged by GRID-Arendal to produce a Rapid Response Assessment report on the rising threat of wildfires.

CSIRO Bushfire Behaviour and Risks team leader and report author Dr Andrew Sullivan said:

“The report has shown wildfires are an emerging challenge like never before, even in countries that haven’t historically experienced the impacts of wildfires.

“No single nation has solved the problem of dealing with wildfires and even developed countries like Australia struggle to deal with the impacts of wildfires.

“Uncontrolled vegetation fires occur all the time around the world and don’t cause much in the way of concern, for example in the savannas of northern Australia and Africa. However, places that historically have not suffered from damaging wildfires, such as the Middle East, India, and Siberia, are now starting to feel their impacts.” 

Wildfires are increasing due to factors including climate change

“Under climate change we are likely to see a greater frequency of conditions conducive to the outbreak of wildfires such as long periods of rainfall deficit combined with hot dry strong winds.

“The vast majority of fires don’t cause concern but we are experiencing a change in weather patterns due to climate change as well as changes in populations and demographics that are altering land use and land management practices.

“Understanding how these changing conditions combine to influence the likelihood of outbreak of a wildfire and the subsequent spread and behaviour of that fire are very active areas of research around the world.” 

Reducing wildfire risk

“Given the likely increase in wildfires and their impacts globally, the report calls for an overall shift in world-wide wildfire-related expenditures, technological investments to control fire, and recovery planning, including the protection and restoration of ecosystems in danger. 

“The report outlines nine recommendations for countries to consider when aiming to reduce their risk of wildfires.

“These include recognising and responding to the impact of climate change on the prevalence and behaviour of wildfires; improving fuel management and wildfire monitoring; supporting and integrating Indigenous, traditional, and contemporary fire management practices into policy; and strengthening international and regional cooperation on wildfires.”

For the past 70 years CSIRO has made important contributions to Australia’s understanding and management of bushfires. 

Read more here: 



After the Dunns Road fire in Talbingo, near the Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, in January 2020.
New post fire regrowth in the Adelaide Hills. February 2020. ©  CSIRO, Tanya Doody
Dry landscape burning. The North Black range fire, east of Canberra.
Bushfire at Captain Creek Central Queensand Australia

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