Canadian wildfires contribute significantly to global carbon emissions in 2023

December 13, 2023
Wildfire haze

In 2023, Canada experienced an unprecedented level of wildfires, leading to a substantial increase in carbon emissions.

This year, the country accounted for 23% of global wildfire carbon emissions, a significant figure in the context of global environmental concerns.

Record-breaking emissions from Canadian wildfires

Canada’s wildfires, which began in early May, emitted almost 480 megatonnes of carbon, nearly five times the average of the past 20 years.

This figure represents a significant portion of the global annual total estimated fire emissions, which stood at 2100 megatonnes as of December 10, 2023.

The wildfires, affecting areas such as British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec, were notable not only for their carbon emissions but also for their intensity, persistence, and impact on local communities​​.

Global impact of Canadian wildfires

The smoke pollution from these fires severely affected air quality, impacting not only Canada but also large parts of North America.

Furthermore, smoke from these fires traveled across the Atlantic, causing hazy skies over parts of Europe, indicating the global reach of these environmental incidents​​.

Comparative analysis of wildfires globally

Globally, 2023 saw varying wildfire activities.

The Northern Hemisphere experienced significant wildfire events, with Canada breaking records.

In contrast, the United States and Russia had quieter fire seasons than usual.

The Mediterranean region, especially Greece, suffered devastating wildfires, significantly impacting local communities.

Spain also witnessed high emissions from wildfires, while in the Southern Hemisphere, countries like Indonesia, Australia, Chile, and Argentina experienced significant fires.

These varied occurrences highlight the widespread nature of wildfire activity across different regions​​.

Climate change and wildfire nexus

The relationship between climate change and wildfires is complex.

While wildfires themselves are not primary drivers of greenhouse gas concentrations, the increase in global temperatures, associated with higher levels of these gases, enhances the likelihood of wildfires.

This cycle suggests that as heatwaves become more prevalent, combined with long-standing drought conditions, the probability of unprecedented wildfires, similar to those in Canada, increases.

Continuous monitoring of wildfire emissions is crucial for assessing and mitigating their impact on air quality and human health​​.

Role of Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), part of the European Union’s space program, plays a significant role in providing current information on the location, intensity, and estimated emissions of wildfires globally.

This service is instrumental in tracking smoke transport and its effects on atmospheric composition, underlining the importance of international cooperation and data sharing in tackling environmental challenges​​.

FSJA Comment

The 2023 Canadian wildfires have highlighted the escalating issue of global wildfire emissions.

The significant contribution of these fires to global carbon emissions underscores the urgency of addressing wildfire management and climate change mitigation.

The widespread impact of these fires, affecting air quality across continents, demonstrates the interconnected nature of environmental issues.

This situation calls for enhanced international collaboration, improved monitoring systems, and proactive strategies to mitigate the effects of wildfires and adapt to the changing climate.

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