Carbon emissions from French wildfires hit record

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Wildfires release pollutants which make people sick.
Wildfires release pollutants which make people sick.
Peter Parks
  • Record amounts of carbon emissions have been released from wildfires in France.
  • The 1 million metric tons of carbon emitted in two months is nearly equivalent to the yearly emissions from 790 000 cars.
  • In the past 20 years, France's annual average carbon emissions from fires have been around 300 tons.
  • Get the biggest business stories emailed to you every weekday, or go to the Fin24 front page.

Ongoing wildfires in France have already released record amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, new satellite data has shown.

The fires, which have burned large parts of the southwestern Gironde region, unleashed nearly 1 million metric tons of carbon from June to August, according to the European Union's Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS).

That is roughly equal to the yearly carbon dioxide emissions from 790 000 cars.

In the past two decades, France has averaged around 300 000 tons of annual carbon emissions from fires.

The only year that has come close to this summer's record for France is 2003 — coincidentally the same year that satellite monitoring began. Intense summer heat and dry conditions then saw about 650 000 metric tonnes of carbon released from June to August wildfires.

Emissions data from southwestern Europe offers a "reflection of the size and persistence of the fires," said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS. This, he added, is tied to the region's plants and trees becoming more flammable under "long-standing drier and warmer conditions".

Spain also registered record wildfire emissions during a mid-July heatwave, CAMS reported last month. By comparison, Portugal wildfires resulted in lower emissions than previous years.

More than 60 000 hectares have burned so far in France this year, six times the full-year average from 2006 to 2021, according to data from European Forest Fire Information System.

While France's emissions are "fairly negligible" when it comes to global wildfire emissions, said Parrington, the fires have a big impact on regional air quality.

Recent satellite images show a huge smoke plume unfurling into the Bay of Biscay. In addition to carbon, wildfires release other pollutants like Particulate Matter 2.5 which can make people sick.

Smoky conditions have also been found to reduce solar energy output, in some cases by nearly half. That is because tiny airborne particles from fires can prevent the sun's energy from reaching panels.

France's Gironde region is home to a 40 000-strong solar panel installation that provides power to almost 13 000 people.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

Government tenders

Find public sector tender opportunities in South Africa here.

Government tenders
This portal provides access to information on all tenders made by all public sector organisations in all spheres of government.
Browse tenders