Climate Change Increases Risk of Wildfires

The proof that climate change raises the frequency and/or intensity of fire weather in several regions of the world has been strengthened by new scientific publications assessed from January 2020.

Recently published at, the updated review on the association between risks of wildfires and climate change focuses on articles applicable to fires that are continuing in the western United States—new findings applicable to the southeastern Australian wildfires that raged between the 2019 and 2020 season—and the latest findings published since the first review of research was carried out in January 2020.

Earlier in January 2020, the ScienceBrief Review examined the 57 peer-reviewed papers on the association between climate change and the risk of wildfire published since the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC in 2013.

Headed by Dr Matthew Jones of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the update covers a total of 116 scientific articles. It involved scientists from UEA, the University of California, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia, and Met Office Hadley Centre at the University of Exeter.

Fire Weather 

Fire weather can be described as periods that carry a high fire refers, because of the combination of low rainfall, low humidity, high temperatures, and frequent high winds.

The western part of the United States is among the areas where the trends in fire weather have been highly pronounced in the past for at least four decades. A series of other factors, such as land management practices, influence fire activity.

But according to the authors, land management alone is not enough to describe the recent increases in the extent and intensity of wildfire in southeast Australia or the western US because increased fire weather from climate change increases fire risk where fuels continue to be available.

The western US is a hot spot for increases in fire weather caused by climate change, and it is completely unsurprising that wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense in the region.

Dr Matthew Jones, Senior Research Associate, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia

Dr Jones continued, “The western US is now more exposed to fire risks than it was before humans began altering the global climate by using fossil energy on a grand scale. Regardless of the ignition source, warmer, drier forests are primed to burn more regularly than they were in the past.”

Climate models indicate that fire weather will continue to rise this century in many parts of the world, and increasingly so for each added degree of global warming. A switch to an economy supported by renewable energy sources is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on fire risk.

Dr Matthew Jones, Senior Research Associate, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia

Important messages from the new analysis:

  • Over 100 research works published since 2013 demonstrate strong consensus that climate change encourages the weather conditions that are depended upon by wildfires, thus raising their probability.
  • Natural variability is superimposed on the increasingly dry and warm background conditions, leading to climate change and resulting in more intense fires and more severe fire seasons.
  • Land management can compound or improve climate-driven changes in wildfire risk, either via fuel accumulation or fuel reductions as an unplanned by-product of fire suppression. Climate change further undermines the fire suppression efforts.
  • There is a pervasive and unambiguous role of climate change in increasing the length and intensity in which fire weather takes place; land management could have probably contributed too, but does not solely account for the recent increases in the extent and intensity of wildfire in southeast Australia and the western US.

The original literature review and the update were performed using the latest ScienceBrief online platform, established by scientists at UEA and the Tyndall Centre. Pended by investigators, the review helps make sense of peer-reviewed publications and keep up with science. ScienceBrief Reviews encourages rapid, continuous, and transparent reviews of current knowledge.


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