Forests cover one third of the planet’s land mass, with 1.6 billion people depend on it for their food, shelter, livelihood and medicine, among others.
Wildfire breakouts were recorded in various areas around the world, including in Victoria and New South Wales in Australia, California and Colorado in USA, and even in the Amazon rainforests – the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world, home to at least 10% of the world’s biodiversity, and produces 20% of the world’s oxygen which helps regulate the temperature of the whole planet.
In the Philippines, forest fires were recorded in the Cordillera Mountains and in unprotected mountain areas in Antipolo and Tanay in Rizal earlier this year.
Fires help maintain a healthy forest ecosystem by releasing important nutrients into the soil and aiding in seed dispersal. In tropical forests, local and indigenous communities have used controlled fires for centuries to clear land for agriculture.
But climate change and forest degradation and fragmentation have led to more fire-prone conditions globally. With hotter and drier conditions, fires – either ignited by humans or by lightning – are more likely to burn over larger areas and at hotter temperatures. Forests degraded by logging and disease, and fragmented by deforestation are also more susceptible to fire.
Wildfires release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming, and in severe cases, irreparably damaging forests ecosystems. The resulting smoke and haze can travel miles, creating public health crises as people breathe in unhealthy levels of pollutants. Uncontrolled wildfires cause billions of dollars in economic damage each year as property and natural tourist attractions are destroyed, water supplies are polluted, and economies are crippled by evacuations.
The government and other stakeholders must sharply curb the global warming emissions that are fueling climate change and increasing wildfire risks, and to adapt to wildfire response strategies by taking action to improve forest and fire management practices.
We must scale-up efforts in effectively and efficiently enforcing laws on forests conservation and forest governance such as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001, the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992, and the Expanded NIPAS of 2018, which paves 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 – to strengthen climate adaptation mechanisms and the conservation of Philippine biodiversity.
The tools and practices such as the community-based forest management (CBFM) and assisted natural regeneration (ANR) must be updated to reflect the latest science. By investing in adaptation measures such as limiting development and implementing fire-resilient measures for existing communities in fire-prone areas, this will help mobilize the reforestation efforts in the country, as well as reduce the danger of wildfires.