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EU Commission Report Highlights 2023 as One of EU’s Worst Wildfire Seasons

Featured EU Commission Report Highlights 2023 as One of EU’s Worst Wildfire Seasons

Last year,  over half a million (504,002) hectares, an area twice the size of Luxembourg, was scorched by wildfires, according to an advance report on Forest Fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2023 published today by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The report shows that fires intensified during summer 2023, affecting mostly the Mediterranean region, with Greece (near Alexandroupoli) suffering the largest single fire to occur in Europe since the 1980s. Climate change is making wildfires more and more frequent. And it will get worse, as the European Climate Risk assessment report published in March highlights. Wildfires are increasingly affecting areas that have not been considered fire-prone regions in the past.

EIRIF forest firefighters work during the extinction of the Tijarafe fire on the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain July 16, 2023 REUTERS/Borja Suarez

In addition, preliminary data for the first three months of 2024 show almost double the average number of fires, although these did not have major impact in terms of burnt areas.

General shots of the destruction caused by the extensive wildfires in Southern Rhodes, Asklipio village, on August 5, 2023

Analysis by vegetation type for 2023 reveals that 37% of the total burnt area was covered by shrubs and sclerophyll vegetation, characterised by hard, thick leaves and adapted to prolonged periods of dryness, while 26% (120,000 ha) were forests. According to the report, the wildfires resulted in severe damage to the environment, producing some 20 megatonnes (Mt) of CO2 emissions, equivalent to nearly a third of all emissions from international aviation in the EU in one year. The three worst years in this century by the extent of burnt area mapped by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) were 2017 (988427 ha), 2022 (837212 ha) and 2007 (588388 ha). The final 2023 report, integrating national contributions, is due to be published in the autumn.

The Commission published in March 2024 a Communication on building climate resilience in the EU and effectively managing climate risks. As part of immediate action, the measures call for  enhanced prevention including nature-based solutions, better preparedness thanks to early warning systems and efficient firefighting means made available through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM).