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27 August 2020

Press Release

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New WWF report shows number of global fire outbreaks up by 13%

Report released as latest figures reveal Amazon fires more than 50% up on the 10-year average 

New analysis from WWF and the Boston Consulting Group reveals the number of global fires has increased by 13% compared to 2019 – already a record year [1]. 

In addition, the latest data from Brazil reveals fires in the Amazon for this year are 52% up on the ten-year average and almost a quarter (24%) higher than that for the past three years.  

Deforestation alerts are a third higher than last year, increasing the risk of fires.[2] WWF-UK is now launching an appeal to fund work in the Amazon.

Last year more than 148 indigenous communities were affected and this year they are vulnerable to the dual threat of Covid-19 and fires. 1,453 fires have already torn through indigenous territories in the Amazon in the first seven months of this year (10% of the total number of fires in the biome). This is the highest number since 2009 and 56% higher than the average of the last ten years. Deforestation alerts on indigenous lands from January to July reached 10,500 hectares. A total of 26,600 indigenous people have been affected by Covid with 700 reported deaths. Covid has already reached 155 different indigenous territories in Brazil.[3]

Fire seasons are lasting longer and becoming more extreme, says the WWF and BCG report, Fires, Forests and the Future. The average length of the fire season has increased by nearly a fifth(19%) compared to the 1970s, as our climate changes. 

In tropical forest landscapes, like the Amazon, fire is not natural, but caused by human activities, exacerbated by climate change which leaves them drier and hotter – meaning taking action to stop this is key.

Mike Barrett, Executive Director of Science and Conservation at WWF-UK, said: “The combination of climate change, deforestation and burning land for agriculture lead to more extreme, frequent and longer-lasting fires. And rainforests like the Amazon, previously too wet to burn, are no longer spared. 

“We need to stop deforestation as a matter of urgency, reprioritise dwindling investment in fire prevention and rehabilitate destroyed areas. Deforestation, climate change and fires are pushing the Amazon towards a point where it cannot recover. If we lose the Amazon, we lose the fight against climate change. There will be no going back.”

In its report with BCG,  WWF warns that humans are responsible for 75% of all wildfires. In total, fires release roughly as much CO2 into the atmosphere as EU countries emit every year. Climate change and wildfires reinforce each other, and the fires burning today in many parts of the world are bigger, more intense, and last longer than before.  In Australia, for example, the 2019-20 fire season was the worst ever, with one-fifth of all trees destroyed [4].

Tropical forests, such as those in the Amazon, have the highest carbon storage, or sequestration, capacity storing 23% of the world’s total but they are not very resilient to fires. As a result, tropical forest fires produce 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions from fires each year, despite making up only 7% of the surface area burned globally.

Bitaté Uru-eu-wau-wau, 20, president of the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous People's Association, said: “The feeling is that in 2020 there may be more fires than in previous years. We just completed a monitoring activity and discovered several deforested areas within the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Land, which are likely to be burned soon. We found deforested areas four kilometers from the village. It is very close. Fire poses many problems for indigenous peoples, such as scaring off hunting and affecting our health. As we have low immunity, fires also aggravate respiratory problems, mainly affecting isolated people, who are much more vulnerable. It brings us enormous concern...

“I am a young indigenous leader, and it was very painful to see the sadness of the older relatives because of this threatening situation. I want the whole world to know what indigenous peoples are facing in the Amazon.”

The UK government this week (25th August) launched a consultation on new laws to tackle deforestation in UK supply chains as part of the Environment Bill. This could be a critical first step towards protecting the Amazon rainforest and other precious landscapes. It is essential that this new law ensures no more natural habitat is lost around the world through the food and other products we import.





The report is available at

[1] The latest global data goes to April 2020 and was based on NASA Fire Information (VIIRS) and Global Forest Watch data

[2] Deforestation alerts in the Legal Amazon from August 1st, 2019 to July 31, 2020 reached 9,205 km2, 33% more than last year's alerts. Source: DETER, a system of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) that turns on an alert for inspection whenever a stretch of forest is felled. Deter's alerts are a preview of the data that will be confirmed by the end of the year by another Inpe system, Prodes, which instead records the official deforestation data in the Amazon and follows the calendar from August of one year to July of the following year.

[3] Figures to 21st August  according to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) 

[4] This was a fifth of the entire temperate, broadleaf and mixed forest biome.

About WWF

WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, active in nearly 100 countries. Our supporters – more than five million of them – are helping us to restore nature and to tackle the main causes of nature’s decline, particularly the food system and climate change. We’re fighting to ensure a world with thriving habitats and species, and to change hearts and minds so it becomes unacceptable to overuse our planet’s resources. 

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