(Bloomberg) -- Wildfires from Greece to Siberia this year weren’t just devastating for forests and economic livelihoods, they also emitted an estimated 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the European Union’s satellite program Copernicus.
That’s roughly equivalent to half the EU’s total annual emissions, according to a report released this week. The worst-hit regions, North America and Siberia, were responsible for the bulk of pollution. The Sakha Republic in northeast Russia recorded the highest summer-time total since the dataset started in 2003.
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“It is clear from 2021 that climate change is providing the ideal environments for wildfires, which can also be exacerbated by local weather conditions,” said Mark Parrington, a senior Copernicus scientist. “We have seen extensive regions experience intense and prolonged wildfire activity, some of which has been at a level not observed in the last couple of decades.”
The report underscores the twin impacts of wildfires: not only do they emit enormous amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere, they also decimate sources of flora that are a key to capturing greenhouse gases. Even so, fire emissions make up a small fraction of the additional CO₂ humans dump in the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels.
Blazes in the U.S. and Mediterranean also led to high concentrations of fine particulate matter that can cause short and long term health problems. The U.S. experienced wildfires from end-June to late August, with California’s “Dixie Fire” the largest recorded in state history. Turkey was the worst hit in the Mediterranean as fires burned with well above average intensity.
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