What are the degrees of arson

Climate killer forest fire - our climate is sacrificed to arson economic interests

Worldwide only about 4% of all forest fires have natural causes such as lightning strikes. In all other cases, people are responsible for the fire - be it directly or indirectly, be it negligently or deliberately. Often the forest can no longer independently recover from the consequences of the fire. It is not uncommon for the burned areas and thus the entire ecosystem with the plants and animals living there to be lost. According to the WWF, the effects of forest fires on global biodiversity are serious.

As long as fire originated only from natural causes such as lightning strikes, the forests could still recover after each fire and spread again in their ancestral regions. But wherever fires occur today in the wrong place, at the wrong time, too strong and too often, they pose a serious threat to the forest ecosystem.

A forest fire can be divided into three phases: Usually the grass and the dry undergrowth ignite first. There is a fire in the ground that can still be fought easily. When it grows into wildfire, it can jump to the treetops, especially with conifers. This quickly leads to a crown fire and a rapid spread of the flames. Crown fires are much more difficult to fight and easily grow to the third stage, a total fire. This can hardly be deleted any more.

All of the ecoregions that are crucial for maintaining global biodiversity are at risk from changes in the intensity and frequency of fires over 84% of their area. Only in the remaining 16% are the fires still within the ecologically acceptable limits.

The causes of the forest fires

There are many ways in which forest fires start and spread, but usually only one cause: humans. The WWF therefore demands that the real causes of forest fires - deforestation, not infrequently illegal, and the associated drying out of the areas, destructive timber management and slash and burn for plantations, which often get out of control - are consistently combated. He campaigns for this goal with projects for the protection and careful use of forests and exerts pressure on the respective governments through lobbying work.

The fire disasters of 1997/1998 and 2015 show how complex the causal network of climate, human use and the occurrence of forest fires is. The El Niño weather phenomenon led to extreme drought in large parts of Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Russian Far East. In Brazil and Indonesia, huge forest areas caught fire, which had previously been cleared by logging and thus left unprotected to dry out. In Indonesia alone, almost five million hectares were burned in 1997/1998 and 2.6 million hectares in 2015. Smoke and gases polluted the air and endangered the health of 70 million people in the region. Scientists fear that the threat of global warming will shorten the El Niño cycles in the future and thus lead to even more dry spells.

The causes of the increasing forest fires can be found in Indonesia itself, but also in the development of global markets. Raw materials such as cellulose, palm oil or rubber, for whose production the Indonesian forests would have to give way on huge plantations, are global trade products and an important economic factor for the island nation. The huge peat bog forests are drained and the up to 20 m deep peat becomes dry. This peat, which has also been dried out by El Niño, burns quickly and permanently. According to WWF, around 30 percent of the fires in 2015 were discovered on pulp and wood plantations, and another ten percent in palm oil concessions. In agriculture, fire is used illegally to free areas that have already been used from plant residues, but also to gain new areas for cultivation. These fires then often got out of hand.

Behind it are often large corporations such as Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the world's largest paper and pulp producers, or the palm oil giant Wilmar. On the island of Sumatra, 39 percent of all fires were on concessions from APP suppliers. The main obstacles to effective control of the fires and the prosecution of those responsible are the weak judicial system and rampant corruption. Only recently has the Indonesian government started taking action against companies. Since 1990 Indonesia has lost 27.5 million hectares of forest through deforestation, fires and conversion into wood, paper and oil palm plantations. This corresponds roughly to two and a half times the forest area in Germany.

In the Russian Far East, WWF has helped to set up a functioning early warning system for forest fires. The WWF has trained and equipped fire-fighting personnel. In Indonesia, the WWF supports community-based management against slash and burn in the protected areas and their peripheral zones. He advocates better management methods in plantations and is active in political work against the further development of plantations - one of the main reasons for arson in this Southeast Asian country. In addition, the WWF is helping to restore the water balance of this tropical peat bog forest on Borneo in order to prevent the peat from burning down and the release of carbon. Awareness campaigns are being carried out in the Mediterranean region. In addition, the WWF advocates in its lobbying work that those who caused forest fires are held more accountable and that the penalties provided are also enforced. In the Amazon basin, the WWF is fighting for the expansion of protected areas in which slash and burn and other forest-destroying measures are excluded.

Prevent fires - Fire prevention should be given top priority if the risk of forest fire in the regions mentioned and the resulting damage is to be reduced.

Do not create stands of eucalyptus or other monocultures susceptible to fire - The aim of forestry should be to reduce the susceptibility to fire and to increase the resilience of the ecosystem by building natural forests with natural tree species combinations.

Legally prevent slash and burn - The aspect of the risk of forest fires must be integrated into all relevant laws. In some countries, the conversion of forest into agricultural land is encouraged. However, slash and burn can cause uncontrollable wildfires. A legal reform is urgently needed here. Nor should the reallocation of forest fire areas as building land be permitted, as this creates incentives for arson. In some countries, harsh penalties and strong law enforcement are also required to prevent deliberate arson (for example in land disputes or in connection with illegal logging).

Reduce forest risks through adapted land use planning- The forest fire risk must be more closely integrated into spatial planning in the affected countries than before. The establishment of new settlements should be avoided in particularly endangered areas. In order to minimize unnecessary risks, it should be taken into account during construction that railway lines and power lines can cause forest fires. Whether hitherto untouched forests are newly developed should always be subject to an environmental impact assessment. Because where new forest paths are created, more people come. This inevitably increases the risk of fire caused by humans.

Clarify and strengthen responsibilities- When fighting a fire, responsibilities need to be assigned more clearly. In forest fire zones in particular, it must be clear who is coordinating the various bodies (authorities, fire brigade, citizens). Sufficient financial resources and human resources must be available to monitor forest fire risk areas. This is the only way to identify forest fires at an early stage and fight them in good time.

  • WWF study "Forests on fire - causes and consequences of global forest fires"

    Causes and consequences of global forest fires; Revised version 2016 Read more ...

  • WWF Study "Forests Ablaze - Causes and Effects of Global Forest Fires"

    Whenever forest fires are too severe or occur in the wrong place, at an unusual time too frequently, it is a sure sign that the ecosystem has been disturbed by human intervention. Continue reading ...