AK CASC scientist Jeremy Littell contributes to new UNEP report highlighting the rising risk of wildfire

NPS image of burning grasses near mountains

Climate change and land-use change are increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires around the world at an alarming rate. In a new report, Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires, by UNEP and GRID-Arendal, experts warn that the number of wildfires globally is expected to rise by 50% by 2100, and issues a call to governments to invest in better fire prevention and preparedness.

AK CASC researcher Jeremy Littell worked alongside Alaska Fire Science Consortium (AKFSC) fire ecologist Randi Jandt as authors on the Arctic Fire section, which highlights the elevated risk for the Arctic and other regions that were previously less fire-prone. 

“The AKFSC has a long history of bridging between Alaska-relevant fire science and the fire management community, so we were fortunate to be able to work together to synthesize the rapidly emerging science on Arctic fire,” said Littell.

As wildfires increase in severity and frequency due to climate change-driven factors like increased drought, high air temperatures, low relative humidity, lightning, and strong winds resulting in hotter, drier, and longer fire seasons, they also play a role in exacerbating rising temperatures. Fires damage carbon-rich ecosystems like peatlands and forests, which in turn emit large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The report calls for governments to shift capacity to planning, prevention, preparedness, and recovery from wildfires, which currently receive far less effort than direct response to fires. The authors also highlight the need for an approach combining data and science-based monitoring with Indigenous Knowledge, as well as stronger regional and international cooperation.