Forest fires

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: CLIM 035
Created 05 Nov 2019 Published 02 Dec 2019 Last modified 02 Dec 2019
9 min read
This indicator monitors: the burnt areas in European countries; the current state of and projected changes in forest fire danger.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)

Rationale

Justification for indicator selection

Forest fires are a significant disturbance agent in many forested landscapes. Frequent and large-scale fires have negative impacts on air and water quality, threaten biodiversity, increase the risks of soil erosion and spoil the aesthetics of a landscape. Forest fires also represent a threat to climate change mitigation, as they release large amounts of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, forest fires can cause large economic damages and losses of human lives if they affect populated areas. Nevertheless, fires play an essential role in the dynamics of many ecosystems. They are an essential element of forest renewal, they help control insect and disease damage, and they reduce the build up of fuel and thus the intensity of future fires.

Fire risk depends on many factors such as climatic conditions (e.g. humidity, temperature and wind), vegetation (e.g. fuel load and condition), topography, forest management practices and the socio-economic context. The large majority of wildfires in Europe are ignited by humans, either accidently or intentionally. However, climatic factors and the availability of fuel determine the conditions under which fires occur and spread, once ignition has occurred. The extreme fire episodes and devastating fire seasons of recent years in Europe were, in most cases, driven by severe fire weather conditions. Thus, climate change is expected to have a strong impact on forest fire regimes in Europe.

Scientific references

  • European Commission (2019): Forest Fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2018. Joint Research Centre, EUR 29856 EN
  • IPCC, 2014: Europe. Kovats, R.S., R. Valentini, L.M. Bouwer, E. Georgopoulou, D. Jacob, E. Martin, M. Rounsevell, and J.-F. Soussana, 2014: Europe. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part B: Regional Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Barros, V.R., C.B. Field, D.J. Dokken, M.D. Mastrandrea, K.J. Mach, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1267-1326.
  • European Commission, 2017: Forest fire danger extremes in Europe under climate change: variability and uncertainty de Rigo, D., Libertà, G., Houston Durrant, T., Artés Vivancos, T., San-Miguel-Ayanz, J.: 'Forest fire danger extremes in Europe under climate change: variability and uncertainty', JRC Technical Report, EUR 28926 EN, European Commission, 2017

Indicator definition

This indicator monitors:

  • the burnt areas in European countries;
  • the current state of and projected changes in forest fire danger.

Units

  • Area (ha).
  • FWI (no units).

Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013, the European Commission 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 to allow ‘Better informed decision-making’. This will be achieved by bridging knowledge gaps and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the ‘first-stop shop’ for climate adaptation information in Europe. Climate-ADAPT has been developed jointly by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency (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. It was relaunched in early 2019 with a new design and updated content. Further objectives include ‘Promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors through climate-proofing EU sector policies’ and ‘Promoting action by Member States’.

In November 2018, the Commission published its evaluation of the 2013 EU adaptation strategy. The evaluation package includes a report from the Commission, a Commission staff working document, the adaptation preparedness scoreboard country fiches and reports from the JRC Peseta III project. This evaluation includes recommendations for the further development and implementation of adaptation policies at all levels.

In November 2013, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted the EU's Seventh 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 the 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: Adaptation in EU policy sectors
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: Country profiles
    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.
  • Evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy Package
    In November 2018, the EC published an evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy. The evaluation package comprises a Report on the implementation of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM(2018)738), the Evaluation of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (SWD(2018)461), and the Adaptation preparedness scoreboard Country fiches (SWD(2018)460). The evaluation found that the EU Adaptation Strategy has been a reference point to prepare Europe for the climate impacts to come, at all levels. It emphasized that EU policy must seek to create synergies between climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction efforts and sustainable development to avoid future damage and provide for long-term economic and social welfare in Europe and in partner countries. The evaluation also suggests areas where more work needs to be done to prepare vulnerable regions and sectors.

Key policy question

How is climate change affecting forest fire risk in Europe?

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Historical fire data series are available in Europe and regularly updated within 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 are routinely used to rate the fire potential due to weather conditions. The Canadian FWI is used by EFFIS to rate the daily fire danger conditions in Europe.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable.

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable.

Data sets uncertainty

Information on forest fires is collected in the JRC's European Fire Database. This database is an important component of EFFIS. Forest fire data are provided each year by individual EU Member States in accordance with several EU regulations, and additional data coming from other European countries are checked, stored and managed by JRC within EFFIS. Time series on forest fires for the five European countries most affected by forest fires go back to 1980; data from other countries have been increasingly available since 1990. Currently, the database covers data from 22 countries in Europe and contains over 2 million individual fire event records. Data quality is generally high. However, a few countries have changed their reporting methodology over time, such as Greece in 1998.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Annemarie Bastrup-Birk

Ownership

Joint Research Centre (JRC)
European Environment Agency (EEA)

Identification

Indicator code
CLIM 035
Specification
Version id: 4

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years

Classification

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

Related content

Based on data

Latest figures and vizualizations

Relevant policy documents

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.
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