You are here

forest fires

With greater forest knowledge, sustainability is within reach - if we act quickly

For forests, 2017 could be seen as a tale of discouraging superlatives. We learned that global forest loss is at a record high since data collection started in 2000. Damage from wildfires in the United States was the costliest in the country’s history. And in Brazil, September 2017 saw more forest fires than any other month on record.

There is no doubt that the world’s forests are – like many other ecosystems – approaching a dangerous tipping point. Some of PROFOR’s own analysis draws similar conclusions: for instance, an upcoming report suggests that the southern Amazon may soon be caught up in a cycle of droughts and fires that render the forest into a net emitter of carbon. These and other threats to forests could not only have devastating ecological and climatic impacts, but are likely to profoundly affect the wellbeing of communities who depend on forests and the services that they provide.

Despite this gloomy news, it is encouraging to see an ever-growing body of knowledge on the economic, social and environmental contributions made by forests. More positive still is how much we are learning about the many opportunities for expanding the role of forests to make real development gains.

For example, PROFOR-supported research finds that forest-rich Colombia could significantly boost revenues and jobs by investing in commercial plantations, which would also help protect natural forests and help the country meet its pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions. Another report, co-funded by the Climate Investment Funds, highlights how six countries could sequester more than 150 million tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) by 2030 by supporting forest restoration and the increased production and use of wood products. 

PROFOR and partners also made a business case for moving toward deforestation-free production models in the cocoa industry and set out a set of principles to help advance that goal. And where the impact of commercial activities on forests just can’t be avoided or sufficiently minimized, PROFOR is guiding countries like mineral-rich Mozambique on the use of “last resort” options that can still contribute to biodiversity preservation.  

Importantly, we know more about the value not just of forests, but also of forested landscapes. A study of tree-based systems in Rwanda and Malawi recommends promoting trees on farms instead of subsidizing fertilizer -  a move that could reduce government spending by millions of dollars every year. These and other ecological restoration processes can - and need to - be massively scaled up to maintain important safety nets and help communities move out of poverty.

PROFOR-funded resources like the Forest-SWIFT survey tool are building understanding for the ways in which poor communities depend on forests, and helping to develop targeted programs that simultaneously enhance ecosystem benefits and conserve habitats. Another PROFOR-supported study in the Philippines finds that forest investments can be highly cost-effective, especially when adapting to climate change.   

But these gains won’t happen on their own. They require evidence-based investments that consider a whole raft of ethical and governance factors, including the meaningful participation of men and women in forest management decisions. Another crucial consideration – but one that is often considered too risky - is the issue of land rights for forest peoples. A PROFOR book on tenure systems in six Latin American countries aims to advance the discussion of how strong community rights can promote sustainable forest management as well as economic development.

Finally, there has been heartening progress in understanding the role of forests as part of many non-traditional sectors like disaster risk management, agriculture, and energy. PROFOR has been a staunch advocate of these “forest-smart” solutions, and early results are highlighting the importance of this approach. A PROFOR activity on forest-smart mining, for example, revealed that  a substantial number of the world’s mines are located in forests. We hope 2018 will see the continued growth of forest-smart strategies, within our own work and that of our partners.

While the year ahead presents some daunting challenges for preserving and protecting forests, and the urgency is greater than ever, we also have better knowledge and tools at our disposal. So, let’s get to work. Won’t you join us?

For stories and updates on related activities, follow us on twitter and facebook, or to our mailing list for regular updates.

Last Updated : 05-29-2018

Forest Resilience for the Southern Amazon: Managing the Agricultural Frontier


Due to climate change, the dry-season length has increased over southern Amazonia since 1979, resulting in a prolonged fire season. Major droughts in 2005 and 2010 significantly damaged the southern portion of the Amazon forest in Brazil and elevated fire-induced tree mortality in as much as 12% of the southeastern Amazon forests. These results suggest that feedbacks between fires and extreme climatic conditions could increase the likelihood of an Amazon forest “dieback” in the near-term. In addition, a recent study of human impacts on the integrity of the Amazon forest reported that a combination of selective logging and wildfires turns primary forests into a thick scrub full of smaller trees and vines, which not only stores 40% less carbon than undisturbed forests, but is also more susceptible to fires from adjacent farms and pasturelands than pristine forest. Forests are also under threat from the conversion to agriculture, particularly at the Cerrado margin, which has seen the largest expansion of medium and large farms, often linked to dynamic external markets.


The development objective of this proposal is to provide guidance to key local and national stakeholders on the design of policies and measures with the aim of maintaining the resilience of the southern Amazon forest in the face of climate change, increasing forest degradation, fire risks and associated greenhouse gas emissions, and increased global demand for agricultural commodities.

In the short-term, this activity will improve stakeholders involved in policy-making and implementation understanding of the dynamics between forests, agriculture and climate change, and resulting forest degradation and fire risks in a fragile frontier by key. In the medium term, it is expected to feed into the policy cycle by (i) establishing a sound set of potential impacts under different scenarios; and (ii) providing the basis for informed dialogue around increasing the resilience impact of policies and measures in the land use sector under the National Climate Change Policy.

The activity is composed of three tasks:

  • Modeling of climate change, fire, forest degradation, and land use change dynamics in southern Amazonia. This will build on previous modeling work conducted by the World Bank in Brazil under the Low Carbon Country Case Study (Gouvello et al. 2010), namely SimBrasil and DINAMICA. The output will consist of a report outlining potential forest resilience impacts under different scenarios. The work will focus on the near to mid-term (2020) and complement the PROFOR supported study "Turn Down the Heat" that is focusing on medium- to long-term impacts (2030–2050).
  • Policy options for managing the agricultural frontier. The output will include a report with recommendations resulting from the dialogue.
  • Dissemination and knowledge exchange.


The simulations of future fire regimes indicate that the Southern Amazon is on the verge of a drastic tipping point from which the extent of areas burned in drought years may even double. This happens consistently in the four scenarios modeled after 2030, with and without deforestation. In other words, a temperature rise of just ≈1° relative to the current average (2010-2015) could trigger a series of large forest fires during the most severe droughts in the region. In those years, areas burned in the Southern Amazon could extend to over 3.6 million hectares, an increase of about 110% relative to the extent of the 2007 fires. In general, there is an increase in burned forest area from 17% to 41% after 2030 compared to 2002-2010. Although the results of the three models and four scenarios analyzed diverge from each other slightly, the trend is the same.

While the results of the simulations are inconclusive for years of normal rainfall, the advance of deforestation (at current rates) implies that an additional 7-16% of land will be burned between 2011-50 relative to scenarios with climate change alone. Although forest fragmentation plays an important role in facilitating fire spread, the results show that drought is the key determinant of the fire regime. This points to a virtually catastrophic effect of droughts powered by global warming, even in a scenario of robust climate change mitigation and a sharp reduction in deforestation rates.

In terms of geographic pattern, the southern Amazon is likely to be very heavily impacted, with some variation between the southeast and southwest depending on the different scenarios. In addition, high-intensity fires during droughts will be more extensive, implying higher mortality and consequent loss of forest biomass. From being a potential carbon sink, the Amazon forest will become a net source of carbon dioxide emissions, feeding back into global warming.

These dire warnings are crucial because they relate to an ecosystem of extremely high local, regional and global consequence. At the local and regional levels, fires in the Amazon are destroying valuable ecosystem services that communities depend on. The vast majority of agricultural production in Latin America depends on rain, meaning that disruptions to these systems will have profound negative impacts on livelihoods, jobs, health and nutrition, and wellbeing more generally. At the global level, it is very alarming that the Amazon forest may soon become a net emitter of carbon dioxide, rather than a potential carbon sink, contributing to climate change and further reducing the resilience of communities and ecosystems.

The final report identifies very feasible policy actions that can mitigate these negative impacts, including:

  • Investing in fire prevention and firefighting capacity;
  • Incentivizing alternative agricultual practices that are not based on fire; and
  • Better land use planning to align agricultural producers and aggregators.

Implementing such policies is critical to conserving forests and biodiversity, ensuring the availability of ecosystem services and keeping people out of poverty, and ultimately to achieving global targets like the World Bank twin goals, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Climate Agreement.

For stories and updates on related activities, follow us on twitter and facebook, or to our mailing list for regular updates.

Last Updated : 04-24-2018

The Forest Dialogue -- dialogues on REDD+ Benefit Sharing

Deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector and second only to the energy sector. While considered a problem, preventing deforestation can serve as 20% of the solution to climate change.

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the enhancement of carbon stocks (REDD+) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, thereby offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. REDD+ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
For REDD+ to be effective, a benefit-distribution system is needed to persuade stakeholders, in particular the forest-dependent poor, to participate. However, a range of critical questions remain about the nature of such a system.

The Forest Dialogue (TFD) REDD+ Initiative seeks to build a community of practice among locally rooted, well-connected REDD practitioners to share experiences and develop practical tools that support effective, efficient, and equitable benefit-sharing mechanisms for REDD+. Through the initiative, TFD aims to promote appropriate economic, policy, and institutional arrangements at the local, national, and international levels and to facilitate equitable and efficient delivery of REDD+ benefits.

TFD and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conducted a series of dialogues among leaders in 2013—in Ghana, Vietnam, and at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C.—to investigate how to create benefit-sharing mechanisms for REDD+. The first dialogue, in Washington, was a scoping exercise that aimed to understand the state of REDD+ benefit sharing in several key countries and to identify the challenges of designing and implementing those mechanisms more broadly. The dialogues will continue in 2014, with the first scheduled to take place in Peru.

PROFOR will support this initiative in several ways. It will host the scoping dialogue associated with this dialogue stream. PROFOR also will use the work it has done on benefit sharing to inform the broader dialogue stream, and will link the stakeholders that it has engaged with to the dialogue stream. PROFOR’s other objective is to actively engage from the technical side in the dialogue stream, given the relevance of this topic for REDD+ and more generally. PROFOR also will assist with dissemination and generation of materials and products from this dialogue stream, on a needs-justified basis.

This activity is ongoing. Findings will be shared on this page when they become available. 

For stories and updates on related activities, follow us on twitter and facebook, or to our mailing list for regular updates.

Author : The Forests Dialogue [1], International Union for Conservation of Nature [2] [1] [2]
Last Updated : 05-23-2017



World Bank Europe and Central Asia Region

Accounting for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Forest Fires in Bulgaria

Today around 40 to 50 percent of forests in Bulgaria are classified as high risk for wildfires. While forest fires have their place in nature and can serve an important function in maintaining the health of some ecosystems, there is evidence of a growing number of fires caused directly or indirectly by humans. Conversely, fire prevention and suppression seems correlated with the level of socioeconomic development (contrast efforts in Portugal, Spain and France vs. results in the Balkans). 

Accounting for the full costs of forest fires could help build the case for stepped up investment in this sector and perhaps open the door for carbon financing. However costs associated with increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are very difficult to estimate compared to economic losses in terms of property, timber, and even loss of life and livelihoods. The difficulty stems from a number of factors including the fact that much carbon remains in the form of dead trees; soil carbon content may change depending on the severity of fire; forest fires may weaken trees and increase the occurrence of pests and disease; forests may regenerate in different patterns depending on species, competing vegetation, grazing etc.

PROFOR was planning to supporting a study that would examine the possible causes of forest fires in Bulgaria and evaluate a set of preventive and suppressive measures, including climate change adaption measures, that can be taken to reduce the incidence of forests burnt annually; and  evaluate the different models that estimate GHG emissions associated with forest fires in Bulgaria and propose and test the most robust model/ methodology to estimate these emissions. However this activity was cancelled.

For stories and updates on related activities, follow us on twitter and facebook, or to our mailing list for regular updates.

Author : World Bank Europe and Central Asia Region
Last Updated : 02-24-2017