Wildfires, Global Climate Change, and Human Health
The world has already observed many devastating effects of human-induced climate change. A vivid manifestation is the several large wildfires that have occurred recently — in some cases, fires of unprecedented scale and duration — including wildfires in Australia in 2019 to 2020, the Amazon rainforest in Brazil in 2019 and 2020, the western United States in 2018 and 2020, and British Columbia, Canada, in 2017 and 2018. Since August of this year, record-breaking wildfires have burned 2.7 million hectares (as of September 18, 2020) along the West Coast of the United States, killing more than 30 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Robust projections indicate that the risk of wildfires will continue to increase in most areas of the world as climate change worsens and that the fires will increase excess mortality and morbidity from burns, wildfire smoke, and mental health effects.
Substantial greenhouse-gas emissions and forest loss from wildfires are likely to accelerate climate change further and possibly lead to a reinforcing feedback loop. This report summarizes the status of wildfires under climate change, current knowledge and gaps about the health risks of wildfires, and challenges of developing and implementing strategies for reducing associated health risks.