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This page was published on 15/06/2007
Published: 15/06/2007


Published: 15 June 2007  
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Agriculture & food  |  Environment


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Prescribed burning mitigates CO2 emissions

Forest fires are capable of releasing large quantities of CO2, which has been identified as one of the gases responsible for global warming, into the atmosphere. By the careful and controlled use of fire, known as “prescribed burning”, the likelihood of wild fires in forests can be reduced, along with the uncontrolled release of CO2.

The European Forest Institute study comes as good news for the fire-prone regions of southern Europe. © Matt+
The European Forest Institute study comes as good news for the fire-prone regions of southern Europe.
Prescribed burning is the knowledgeable and controlled application of fire to a particular land area in order to achieve planned resource management objectives. Managers of forest resources need to possess a sound understanding of the short- and long-term effects of fire on the environment and the ways in which different ecosystems react to it.

Because this technique can be used to prevent forest fires from occurring, it also has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions from such fires. It can therefore be a “mitigation technique” within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol, which was drawn up with the intention of stabilising the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. However, it will only make a significant contribution in those countries where forest fires are common.

The European Forest Institute (EFI), based in Joensuu, Finland, is the leading forest research network in Europe. The organisation recently made a detailed study on the use of prescribed burning and discovered that this activity can contribute significantly to reducing emissions of the greenhouse gas CO2 in southern Europe where forest fire occurrences are high. The results indicated that in only one out of the thirty-three countries studied, could the Kyoto requirements potentially be achieved with widespread application of fire prevention techniques.

Three countries demonstrated a potential reduction of 4% - 8%, while the majority showed a reduction of less than 2%. Across the whole of Europe the annual estimated emissions from wild fires is 11 million tonnes of CO2. This compares with around 6 million tonnes of CO2 if prescribed burning methods were to be widely applied.

The study indicated that although good support systems for prescribed burning exist, it has not yet begun to realise its full potential. The development of a reliable framework for prescribed fire, based on the active involvement of a range of stakeholders, will encourage both a more targeted use of fire in land management and its contribution to CO2 emissions mitigation. This would allow policy makers to become better informed regarding those factors that influence both fire behaviour and the subsequent effects of fire. This in turn would lead to the creation of a lasting policy framework for prescribed fires in those regions of Europe considered to be at a high risk.

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