Forest fires

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-185-en
Also known as: CLIM 035
Created 15 Dec 2016 Published 20 Dec 2016 Last modified 20 Dec 2016, 04:17 PM
Fire risk depends on many factors, including climatic conditions, vegetation, forest management practices and other socio-economic factors. The burnt area in the Mediterranean region increased from 1980 to 2000; it has decreased thereafter. In a warmer climate, more severe fire weather and, as a consequence, an expansion of the fire-prone area and longer fire seasons are projected across Europe. The impact of fire events is particularly strong in southern Europe.

Key messages

  • Fire risk depends on many factors, including climatic conditions, vegetation, forest management practices and other socio-economic factors.
  • The burnt area in the Mediterranean region increased from 1980 to 2000; it has decreased thereafter.
  • In a warmer climate, more severe fire weather and, as a consequence, an expansion of the fire-prone area and longer fire seasons are projected across Europe. The impact of fire events is particularly strong in southern Europe.

How is climate change affecting forest fire risk in Europe?

Number of fires and burnt area in five southern European countries

Dashboard
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Current and projected state and trend of fire danger

Note: Forest fire danger is expressed by the average Seasonal Severity Rating index (derived from the Canadian Fire Weather Index System). Average 2071-2100 SSR levels are shown in the map. The SSR series was computed usign the GCM-RCM run KNMI-RACMO2-ECHAM5 of ENSEMBLES project.

Data source:
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Past trends

The number and extent of forest fires vary considerably from one year to the next, depending on the seasonal meteorological conditions. Some multi-annual periodicity in the burned area trend can also be partially attributed to the dead biomass burning/accumulation cycle typical of the fire-prone regions. The historical trend of the number of fires is difficult to analyse because fire frequency is strongly affected by the significant changes that occurred in past years in the statistical reporting systems of the countries.

Historical fire series are available in Europe and are regularly updated within the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). Data availability in EFFIS is not the same for all countries, and time series longer than 25 years are available for only a few countries. Figure 1 shows that the reported fire frequency in the five southern European countries for which long time series are available increased during the 1990s, then stabilised for around one decade, and slightly decreased during recent years. Note that these values cannot be compared across countries because of large differences across countries in the total area and the area at risk. In 2014, a large forest fire severely damaged more than 15 000 ha of forest land in Västmanland County, Sweden [i]. Forest fires are also affecting new areas. For example, in 2007, wildfires moved to previously non-fire-prone ecosystems in southern Greece [ii].

Past trends of fire danger have also been analysed by processing series of meteorological fire danger indices, which are routinely used to rate the fire potential owing to weather conditions. The Canadian Fire Weather Index (FWI) is used in EFFIS to rate the daily fire danger conditions in Europe [iii]. Daily severity values can be averaged over the fire season obtaining a Seasonal Severity Rating (SSR) index. The index is dimensionless and allows objective comparison of fire danger from year to year and from region to region; SSR values above six may be considered in the extreme range.

Figure 2 shows the current state, past trend and projections for forest fire danger based on annual SSR values, which have been computed using daily weather data including air temperature, relative humidity, wind and precipitation from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). Other driving factors of fire regimes, such as land-use changes or fuel dynamics, are not taken into account by the SSR. The upper left map shows the average SSR values during the period 1981–2010; the lower left map shows the linear trends over this period, which indicate that there has been a significant increase in forest fire danger in several regions in Europe.

Projections

Climate change projections suggest substantial warming and increases in the number of droughts, heat waves and dry spells across most of the Mediterranean area and more generally in southern Europe. These projected changes would increase the length and severity of the fire season, the area at risk and the probability of large fires, possibly enhancing desertification [iv].

Figure 2 also includes fire danger projections for projected climate conditions in 2071–2100 (upper right map: projected state; lower right map: projected change). The results suggest that climate change would lead to a marked increase of fire potential in south-eastern and south-western Europe; in relative terms, the increase in SSR would be particularly strong in western-central Europe [v]. Similar results were obtained for other forest fire indices, such as the FWI [vi].

The PESETA II study has estimated that the burnt area in southern Europe would more than double during the 21st century for a reference climate scenario and increase by nearly 50 % for a 2 °C scenario [vii]. Another study has estimated a potential increase in burnt areas in Europe by about 200 % during the 21st century under a high emissions scenario (SRES A2) assuming no adaptation. The forest fire risk could be substantially reduced by additional adaptation measures, such as prescribed burning, fire breaks and behavioural changes [viii].



[i] EC, ‘Severe Forest Fire in Sweden’,JRC Science Hub, 5 August 2014, https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/news/severe-forest-fire-sweden.

[ii] Nikos Koutsias et al., ‘Where Did the Fires Burn in Peloponnisos, Greece the Summer of 2007? Evidence for a Synergy of Fuel and Weather’,Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 156 (15 April 2012): 41–53, doi:10.1016/j.agrformet.2011.12.006.

[iii] C.E. Van Wagner, ‘Development and Structure of the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System’, Forestry Technical Report (Ottawa: Canadian Forestry Service Headquarters, 1987), http://cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/publications?id=19927.

[iv] J. M. Moreno, ed., ‘Forest Fires under Climate, Social and Economic Changes in Europe, the Mediterranean and Other Fire-Affected Areas of the World’ (FUME project, 2014), https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Minchao_Wu/publication/285601002_Threats_of_projected_changes_in_fire_regime_for_newly_affected_areas_in_Europe_and_Northern_Africa/links/5662215e08ae4931cd5c9969.pdf?inViewer=0&pdfJsDownload=0&origin=publication_detail.

[v] Nikolay Khabarov et al., ‘Forest Fires and Adaptation Options in Europe’,Regional Environmental Change 16, no. 1 (7 September 2014): 21–30, doi:10.1007/s10113-014-0621-0.

[vi] J. Bedia et al., ‘Forest Fire Danger Projections in the Mediterranean Using ENSEMBLES Regional Climate Change Scenarios’,Climatic Change 122, no. 1–2 (23 November 2013): 185–99, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-1005-z.

[vii] J. C. Ciscar et al., ‘Climate Impacts in Europe: The JRC PESETA II Project’, JRC Scientific and Policy Reports (European Commission — Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, 2014), http://ipts.jrc.ec.europa.eu/publications/pub.cfm?id=7181.

[viii] Khabarov et al., ‘Forest Fires and Adaptation Options in Europe’.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • Burnt area in five southern European countries
  • Current state of forest fire danger
  • Projected state of forest fire danger
  • Past trend of forest fire danger
  • Projected changes in forest fire danger

Units

  • Area (ha)
  • Average Seasonal Severity Rating (SSR, unitless)
  • Trend in SSR (%/year)
  • Projected change in SSR (%)

Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013, the European Commission (EC) presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package. This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM/2013/216 final) and a number of supporting documents. The overall aim of the EU Adaptation Strategy is to contribute to a more climate-resilient Europe.
One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which will be achieved by bridging the knowledge gap and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Climate-ADAPT has been developed jointly by the EC and the EEA to share knowledge on (1) observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health, (2) relevant research, (3) EU, transnational, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans, and (4) adaptation case studies.
Further objectives include Promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors through climate-proofing EU sector policies and Promoting action by Member States. Most EU Member States have already adopted national adaptation strategies and many have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation. The EC also supports adaptation in cities through the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy initiative.
In September 2016, the EC presented an indicative roadmap for the evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy by 2018.
In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7th EU Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) to 2020, ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. The 7th EAP is intended to help guide EU action on environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020. It highlights that ‘Action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will increase the resilience of the Union’s economy and society, while stimulating innovation and protecting the Union’s natural resources.’ Consequently, several priority objectives of the 7th EAP refer to climate change adaptation.

Targets

No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • A new EU Forest Strategy
    A new EU Forest Strategy: for forests and the forest-based sector.  Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions ‘A new EU Forest Strategy: for forests and the forest-based sector’, COM(2013) 659 final. The EU needs a policy framework that coordinates and ensures coherence of forest-related policies and allows synergies with other sectors that influence forest management. The new forest strategy is a key reference in forest-related policy development. EU forests and forest sector need to be positioned in a way that ensures their contribution to the EU’s objectives and targets. This implies to: • Ensure that the multifunctional potential of EU forests is managed in a sustainable and balanced way, enabling our forests’ vital ecosystem services to function correctly. • Satisfy the growing demand for raw material for existing and new products (e.g. green chemicals or textile fibres) and for renewable energy. This demand is an opportunity to diversify markets, but poses a significant challenge for sustainable management and for balancing demands. Demand for new uses in the bioeconomy and in bioenergy should be coordinated with traditional demands, and respect sustainable boundaries. • Respond to the challenges and opportunities that forest-based industries face in resource and energy efficiency, raw materials, logistics, structural adaptation, innovation, education, training and skills, international competition, climate policy beyond 2020 and information and communication, to stimulate growth. • Protect forests and biodiversity from the significant effects of storms and fires, increasingly scarce water resources, and pests. These threats do not respect national borders and are exacerbated by climate change. • Acknowledge that the EU does not only rely on its own production, and that its consumption has implications for forests worldwide. • Develop an adequate information system to follow-up on all of the above.
  • Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
    Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
  • DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
    Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives in the future. This web portal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
  • EU Adaptation Strategy Package
    In April 2013, the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Historical fire series are available in Europe and regularly updated within the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). EFFIS addresses forest fires in Europe in a comprehensive way, providing EU level assessments from pre-fire to post-fire phases, thus supporting fire prevention, preparedness, fire fighting and post-fire evaluations.

To complement the information from past forest fires, past trends of fire danger have also been analysed processing series of meteorological fire danger indices, which are routinely used to rate the fire potential due to weather conditions. The Canadian Fire Weather Index (FWI) is used in EFFIS to rate the daily fire danger conditions in Europe. FWI can be transformed with a simple equation into a daily severity rating index which is deemed to be linearly related with fire suppression difficulties. Daily severity values can be averaged over the fire season obtaining a Seasonal Severity Rating (SSR) index, which allows objective comparison of fire danger from year to year and from region to region.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

Information on forest fires is collected in the European Fire Database at the JRC. The European forest fire database is an important component of the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). Forest fire data are provided each year by individual EU Member States through several EU regulations, and additional data coming from other European countries have been checked, stored and managed by JRC within EFFIS. The quality of the data is high. A time series on forest fires exists back to 1980 for the five European countries most affected by forest fires. Currently, the database covers data from 22 countries in Europe and contains over 2 million individual fire event records

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Annemarie Bastrup-Birk

EEA Management Plan

2016 1.4.1 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100