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Canada produced nearly a quarter of the global wildfire emissions in 2023: report

By Mitchell Consky

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — Canada produced 23 per cent of the global wildfire carbon emissions for 2023, according to a new report by Copernicus, an environmental observation department of the European Union’s Space program.

The report warned that the year’s global wildfire emissions had major impacts on the atmosphere and general air quality for communities throughout the country.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has been tracking the resulting smoke pollution impacts amid global efforts to combat climate change.

It called the results from Canada’s record-breaking wildfire season “unprecedented.”

“The wildfires that Canada experienced during 2023 have generated the highest carbon emissions in record for this country by a wide margin,” the organization said in a recent news release.

The data shows that the country’s wildfires emitted almost 480 megatonnes of carbon this year, “almost five times the average for the past 20 years.” This accounts for 23 per cent of the global wildfire emissions for 2023.

By comparison, Copernicus estimated the global annual total fire emissions to be 2,100 megatonnes of carbon as of Dec. 10.

“These wildfires in British Colombia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, the Northwest territories, and Quebec were remarkable not only in terms of carbon emissions but also in terms of their intensity, persistence and impact on local communities,” it said in the release.

The wildfires affected air quality in large swaths of North America and beyond, with smoke flowing across the Atlantic Ocean at times, creating hazy skies in regions of Europe.

Mark Parrington, a senior scientist with CAMS, said the impact of these fires should not be overlooked.

“The wildfires in Canada were the significant story in global fire emissions for 2023,” he said in the release.

The scale and persistence of wildfires across much of the country “was at a level that has never been seen” in the 21 years Copernicus has been gathering data as part of its Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) dataset, Parrington added. The GFAS system assimilates fire radiative power observations from satellite-based sensors to produce daily estimates of emissions from wildfires and biomass burning, the organization explains on its website.

These findings emerge less than a month after the United Nations released their annual Emissions Gap Report, which warns that the world is on track to warm nearly 3 C if radical climate action is not taken.

Anna Kanduth, director of the Canadian Climate Institute, who is cited in the UN report, said Canada’s role in the fight against climate change should not be underestimated.

“The actions that we take in Canada can influence action around the world,” she told CTVNews.ca during a recent phone interview.

The UN report notes that global greenhouse gas emissions increased 1.2 per cent from 2021 to 2022. It also predicted that 2030 emissions still must decrease by 28 per cent to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of maintaining global heating to 2 C, with a 42 per cent slash in emissions required to keep heating at 1.5 C.

Experts say it’s crucial to monitor global wildfire emissions in an effort to mitigate their impact in the years ahead.

“As heatwaves become more common, in combination with long-standing drought conditions, the likelihood of experiencing unprecedented wildfires as those experienced in Canada is higher,” Copernicus said in the release. “Therefore, the constant monitoring of the evolution of wildfire emissions is key to assess and mitigate their impact on air quality and human health.”

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