Last February, a wildfire started to break out in the forest in Kabayan, Benguet and continued to spread over other parts of Cordillera Mountains, including parts of Mt. Pulag, the highest mountain in Luzon. With these fires, Mt. Pulag is temporarily closed to climbers and trekkers.
Meanwhile, this April, forest fires were recorded in unprotected mountain areas in Antipolo and Tanay in Rizal. The fires are near Masungi Georeserve, a strict nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary situated in the Southern Sierra Madre range, which is a popular tourist destination.
Fire has always been a natural and essential part of our ecosystems. These are caused by a lot of factors, such as temperature, terrain, soil moisture, forest fuels, wind speed and direction, and frequent lightning strikes. But warming temperatures due to climate change have contributed to observed increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires in many forests in the Philippines and around the world.
Over the last 100 years, average global temperatures have increased by 1 degrees Celsius, with the five warmest years on record occurring in the last five years, due to increasing atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2).
Rising global temperatures, more frequent heatwaves and associated droughts in some regions increase the likelihood of wildfires by stimulating hot and dry conditions, evaporating more moisture from the ground, drying out the soil, and making vegetation more flammable.
Moreover, human activities such as kaingin, charcoal production, even unintentionally out of negligence or carelessness such as lighting campfires and discarding lit cigarettes makes forests more susceptible to burning.
Fires impact humans and climate in return. For the climate, fires directly and indirectly increase carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Burning forests release greenhouse gases that makes global warming worse, which in turn these gases exacerbates the global fire activity.
For people, aside from the immediate loss of property, smoke from wildfires can travel for miles and poses a serious risk to public health. Long-term exposure has been linked to higher rates of respiratory and heart problems. Fires also pose a threat to local water quality, and the loss of vegetation can lead to erosion and mudslides afterwards.
Fire is inevitable, but climate change will make it more common and more dangerous. As the climate continues to warm, wildfires are likely to remain a risk over the next few decades.
We must sharply curb the global warming emissions that are fueling climate change and increasing wildfire risks. Overall efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming will help prevent forest fires. And on the other hand, working to reduce the number and severity of forest fires will also help slow climate change. Everyone has the power to break the cycle and get on track toward a more sustainable future.
We also need to adapt wildfire response strategies by taking action to improve forest and fire management practices. To help protect people and property, as well as manage forest and fire, practices must be updated to reflect the latest science. Investing in adaptation measures, such as limiting development and implementing fire-resilient measures for existing communities in fire-prone areas, can help reduce the danger of wildfires.
In 2018, the Republic Act No. 11038, or Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018 (ENIPAS) was enacted to strengthen climate adaptation mechanisms and the conservation of Philippine biodiversity. The law paved the way for a more extensive protection and effective preservation of the remaining protected areas in the country by giving more access to funding for protection programs.##