WWF Spain releases report on ‘superfires’ in the Mediterranean

A new report from WWF Spain, in collaboration with five other countries in the northern Mediterranean, analyses the current state of wildfire prevention and proposes cross-border solutions for more resilient wildfire landscapes.

burned forest
In June 2017, over 8000 acres burned in the Doñana National Park in Spain. Photo: WWF

Last month, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Spain released a new report on the risk of extreme fire events in the Mediterranean region. Recent heatwaves and droughts across Europe highlight the urgency of this report, as wildfire risk is increasingly exacerbated by changing weather patterns due to climate change. These superfires pose significant environmental, economic and human threats. Already, fires cost Europe over 3 billion euros per year. Devastating superfires in Portugal, Greece and Spain from 2017-2018 led to the loss of 225 human lives. France has recorded higher temperatures than ever before in the recent European heat wave.

In addition to these climate-related risks, the report calls for an approach that also focuses on shifts in human development patterns, including land abandonment and rural depopulation, as well as increasing development where forests or shrublands meet urbanised areas, known as the wildland-urban interface. As more than 1400 wildfires have already been reported in Europe this year, the report calls urgently for prevention approaches that aim toward landscape resilience to wildfires, including forest management, rather than focusing resources exclusively on firefighting and suppression, which it views as “obsolete and inneficient” against superfires.

Read the full report (in Spanish) here, or see our translation of the report’s introduction below.

“The Mediterranean Burns”: Introduction to the WWF Spain 2019 Report

The countries of the Mediterranean basin face a shared emergency: the risk of forest fires. Mountains burn with small fires every year, but more and more frequently the perfect conditions arise for the occurrence of an overwhelming wildfire crisis, with major environmental and economic damages and with a serious risk to human life. Recent superfires, also called “megafires” or “extreme fire events,” have demonstrated how the landscape, mountains, current firefighting systems and society as a whole are not prepared for these devastating events, generated by climate change and aggravated by drastic socioeconomic changes.

In this report, WWF analyses why the Mediterranean region is increasingly at risk for dangerous fires, and aims to identify their causes and possible solutions. The only effective strategy to address fires is to focus on the causes and invest in real prevention: to reduce ignition rates, and make the landscape less flammable and more resilient to climate change. It is urgent to take action to be prepared for the next imminent episode.

Many countries in the northern Mediterranean share the same challenge: to face the growing virulence of uncontrollable fire, intensified by the effects of climate change. To mutually address this challenge, this fire report offers a cross-border solution. Coordinated by WWF Spain in collaboration with the national WWF offices in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Turkey, the report analyses the situation in each country context to offer adapted strategies to resolve this shared environmental and economic threat.

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EFIMED is the Mediterranean Facility of the European Forest Institute. Based in Barcelona, Spain, it was launched in 2007.