By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Wildfires in Spain and Morocco have produced more carbon emissions in June and July this year than in the same period of any year since 2003, the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said.
Forest fires have swept through parts of Southern Europe and Northern Africa, killing hundreds of people, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes and pumping out plumes of health-damaging pollution and greenhouse gases.
Fires in Spain produced 1.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions from June to July 17, the highest amount for June-July in any year since Copernicus’ dataset began in 2003.
With more than 30 fires still raging as of Tuesday, Spain has already smashed through its previous record of 1.1 million tonnes of carbon emissions in June-July 2012.
“The emissions for Spain are already higher than what they have been in the last 20 years,” Copernicus senior scientist Mark Parrington told Reuters.
Morocco has also set a new record of 480,000 tonnes of carbon emissions from wildfires in June-July this year, the highest during any June-July period in the last two decades.
Copernicus counts all carbon emitted by the fires in its data, including the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane.
Climate change is exacerbating the hot and dry conditions that spur fires to spread faster and burn longer – meaning they spew out more of the greenhouse gases that heat the planet and the air pollutants that cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems.
“Depending on which way the winds are going, that can really degrade and affect the air quality that affects tens, hundreds of thousands of people potentially,” Parrington said.
Wildfires emitted 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon globally in 2021, as intense and prolonged blazes engulfed regions including Siberia, the United States and the Mediterranean.
France is also nearing record wildfire emissions. Fires in the country emitted 344,000 tonnes of carbon in June-July this year, the highest since June-July of 2003. Other countries such as Portugal have seen lower forest fire emissions than in some recent years.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by John Chalmers and Bernadette Baum)