Climate Action

This is how much carbon wildfires have emitted this year

A firefighter works as the Caldor Fire burns in Grizzly Flats, California, U.S., August 22, 2021. Reuters photographer Fred Greaves: "As a photographer covering wildfires in California, 2021 was one of the most challenging years that I can remember. A severe multi-year drought along with sustained hot and windy weather created multiple “mega-fires” that were unpredictable and quickly consumed hundreds of square miles.  It can take hours to navigate around large wildfires in remote areas, so proper planning is critical to make sure you are in the right place. I also have to wear safety equipment and check on weather conditions and local fire activity so I don’t become trapped.  Firefighters were conducting a nighttime controlled burn to clear brush out after temperatures cooled and the wind had died down to protect homes that were potentially in the path of the Caldor Fire in Northern California. They lit backfires at the base of a hill, expecting it would burn at a moderate pace. Instead, the flames quickly raced up the side of the hill, creating the swirling curtain of fire that silhouetted one of the firefighters. It was yet another example of the unpredictable nature of wildfires."  REUTERS/Fred Greaves/File Photo    SEARCH "POY STORIES 2021" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES   TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Wildfires emitted 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon globally in 2021. Image: REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Kate Abnett
Reporter, Reuters
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Future of the Environment

  • The European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service has the extent of global wildfire emissions in 2021.
  • Around 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon were emitted globally this year.
  • California's "Dixie fire", which ravaged nearly a million acres, was the largest recorded fire in the state's history.

Wildfires produced a record amount of carbon emissions in parts of Siberia, the United States and Turkey this year, as climate change fanned unusually intense blazes, the European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said on Monday.

Wildfires emitted 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon globally in 2021, Copernicus said. That's equivalent to more than double Germany's annual CO2 emissions.

Some of the worst-hit hotspots recorded their highest wildfire emissions for any January-November period since Copernicus' dataset began in 2003, including parts of Siberia's Yakutia region, Turkey, Tunisia and the western United States.

"We have seen extensive regions experience intense and prolonged wildfire activity. Drier and hotter regional conditions under a changing climate have increased the risk of flammability and fire risk of vegetation," said senior Copernicus scientist Mark Parrington.

Globally, the wildfire emissions total wasn't the highest since 2003, but Copernicus said such emissions were likely to increase as the impacts of climate change unfold.

Yakutia in northeastern Siberia produced its highest CO2 emissions from wildfires for any summer since 2003, while in western Siberia, a "huge number" of blazes churned out daily CO2 emissions far above the 2003-2021 average.

In North America, fires in Canada, California and the U.S. Pacific Northwest emitted around 83 million tonnes of CO2, emitting huge smoke plumes that drifted across the Atlantic to reach Europe, Copernicus said.

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California's "Dixie fire", which ravaged nearly a million acres, was the largest recorded fire in the state's history.

In the Mediterranean, a hot and dry summer fanned intense blazes in countries including Greece and Turkey. Thousands of people in those countries were evacuated from their homes, and Copernicus said the region's air quality deteriorated as the fires caused high levels of health-damaging particular matter.

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