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Annex 4: Draft proposals for the development of a standardized fire inventory system

The following proposal was included in the conclusions and recommendations of the ECE/FAO/ILO Seminar on Forest, Fire, and Global Change, Shushenskoye (Russian Federation), 4–9 August 1996. Note: the proposal is included in its original version and does not reflect any changes of designations or mechanisms at the international level, including within the United Nations system.

1. General statement on the role of fire in the global environment

a. Both anthropogenic and natural fires are an important phenomenon in all vegetation zones of the globe. Their impacts, however, are not uniform. Fires may lead to the temporary damage of forest ecosystems, to long-term site degradation and to alteration of hydrological regimes which may have detrimental impacts on economies, human health and safety.

b. As a consequence of global population growth and land-use changes, the cumulative effects of anthropogenic disturbances, and the over-use of vegetation resources, many forest types, which over evolutionary time periods became adapted to fire, are now becoming more vulnerable to fire.

c. On the other hand, in many vegetation types, of the temperate, boreal and tropical ecosystems, fire plays a central role in maintaining the natural dynamics, biodiversity, carrying capacity and productivity of these ecosystems. In many parts of the world sustainable forestry and agricultural practices, as well as pastoralism, depend on the use of fire.

d. Vegetation fires produce gaseous and particle emissions that have significant impacts on the composition and functioning of the global atmosphere. These emissions interact with those from fossil fuel burning and other technological sources, which are the major cause for anthropogenic climate forcing.

e. Global climate change is expected to affect fire regimes and lead to an increase of occurrence and destructiveness of wildfires, particularly in the boreal regions of continental North America and Eurasia.

f. Fire control has been the traditional fire policy in many parts of the world. An increasing number of countries have adopted fire management policies instead, in order to maintain the function of fire in removing the accumulation of fuel loads that would otherwise lead to damaging wildfires, and in order to arrest succession at stages that are more productive to humans than are forests and brushlands that would predominate in the absence of fire.

g. In many countries, however, inappropriate choices are made – often because the responsible authorities and managers are not provided adequately with basic fire information, training, technologies and infrastructures. Large-scale wildfire disasters which occurred in the past years, especially in the less developed countries, may have been less severe and extended if national fire management capabilities had been developed and assistance through the international community provided.

h. Although the global fire science community has made considerable progress to investigate global impacts of fire, using available and developing new technologies, no international mechanisms exist for systematically collecting, evaluating and sharing global fire information. There are also no established mechanisms at the international level to provide fire disaster management, support and relief.

i. Therefore the participants of the ECE/FAO/ILO Seminar on Forest, Fire, and Global Change adopted the following conclusions and recommendations:

2. Conclusions

a. The economic and ecological impact of wildland fire at local to global levels has been demonstrated at this seminar. The possibility of major world disasters, such as the transfer of radioactive materials in wildland fire smoke, and the substantial loss of human life in recent fires, has been scientifically documented. The lack of, and need for, a global statistical fire database, by which the economic and ecological impact of fires could be spatially and temporally quantified, was identified. Such a reliable database is essential, under current global change conditions, to serve sustainable development and the urgent needs of fire management agencies, policy makers, international initiatives, and the global modelling community.

b. Similarities in wildfire problems throughout the world are evident, particularly increasing fire incidence and impact coupled with declining financial resources for fire management, underlying the urgent need to coordinate resources at the international/global level in order to deal effectively with impending major wildland fire disasters.

c. As climate change is a virtual reality, with predicted significant impacts at northern latitudes, seminar participants recognize that boreal and temperate zone fire activity will increase significantly in the future, with resulting impacts on biodiversity, forest age-class distribution, forest migration, sustainability, and the terrestrial carbon budget. It is essential that future fire regimes in these regions be accurately predicted, so informed fire management decisions can be made.

3. Recommendations

a. Quantifiable information on the spatial and temporal distribution of global vegetation fires is urgently needed relative to both global change and disaster management issues. Considering the recent various initiatives of the UN system in favour of global environmental protection and sustainable development, the ECE/FAO/ILO Seminar on Forest, Fire, and Global Change strongly urges the formation of a dedicated United Nations unit specifically designed to use the most modern means available to develop a global fire inventory, producing a first-order product in the very near future, and subsequently improving this product over the next decade. This fire inventory data will provide the basic inputs into the development of a Global Vegetation Fire Information System.

b. The FAO should take the initiative and coordinate a forum with other UN and non-UN organizations working in this field, e.g. various scientific activities of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), to ensure the realization of this recommendation.

c. The information given in the Annexes I to III (Draft Proposals for the Development of a Standardized Fire Inventory System) to these recommendations describe the information requirements (classes of information, information use), the establishment of mechanisms to collect and distribute fire inventory data on a global scale.

d. The development of a satellite dedicated to quantifying the geographical extent and environmental impact of vegetation fires is strongly supported. Such an initiative is currently being evaluated by NASA, and this seminar strongly recommends that this and similar initiatives (e.g., NOMOS sensor on MIR space station) be encouraged and supported.

e. A timely process to gather and share information on ongoing wildfire situations across the globe is required. The creation of a WWW Home Page to handle this information flow is recommended. This could be coordinated with an ongoing G7 initiative, the Global Emergency Management Information Network Initiative (GEMINI), which includes a proposal to develop a Global Fire Information Network using the World Wide Web.

f. Mechanisms should be established that promote community self reliance for mitigating wildfire damages and would also permit rapid and effective resource-sharing between countries as wildfire disasters develop. Since the United Nations Disaster Relief Organization (UNDRO) is an organization recognized and established to coordinate and respond to emergency situations, including wildfires, it is recommended to entrust this organization, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to prepare the necessary steps. The measures taken should follow the objectives and principles of the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR).

g. The unprecedented threat of consequences of fires burning in radioactively contaminated vegetation and the lack of experience and technologies of radioactive fire management requires a special, internationally concerted research, prevention and control programme. Such programme should be implemented under the auspices of the FAO/ECE/ILO.

h. The Wildland Fire ‘97 International Conference in Canada should be used as a forum to further promote the recommendations of this seminar. This can be realized through co-sponsorship of this conference by the FAO, UNDRO, UNESCO, IDNDR and the ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire.

4. Draft proposals for the development of a standardized fire inventory system

I. Preamble

A Vegetation Fire Inventory System at both national and international levels serves a large number of practical needs:

1 Regional - national fire management

a. budget – resource requirements

b. daily to annual tracking of activity compared to normal

c. long-term trends

d. interagency – intergovernmental assistance

e. changes in long-term trends

2 Regional - national non-fire

a. integrated assessments – monitoring of fire impacts on other resources

b. policies and regulations on

3 International use of fire inventory

a. updated forest inventory; availability of timber; fire integrated in resource availability salvage

b. market strategies

c. import- export policies – strategies

d. food and fibre availability rangelands

e. interagency – intergovernmental assistance agreements

f. national security

g. research

h. international treaties, agreements

4 Economic data utility national, but not international compatibility of assumptions

Intergovernmental assistance at bilateral or regional level does not require a global database. These agreements are regional and may differ in requirements from one region to another. If we exclude national security, we need only annual data for a global database. The gamma data type is assembled from the alpha data so there is no need to report this separately. The beta data on fuels can be obtained from other inventories, but must be standardized. The gamma data type will also require development of international standards before it can be considered. All vegetation fires must be included in this database.

Annex III – Establishment of mechanisms to collect and distribute fire inventory data on a global scale

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