1. Overview: Key findings and recommendations

Wildfire frequency, size and severity, as well as the duration of the fire season, are on the rise in many regions of the world. In Australia, average wildfire frequency almost doubled between 1980 and 2020, with an average annual increase in burned forest area of 350% between the early 1990s and 2018 (Canadell et al., 2021[1]). In the United States, wildfire severity (i.e. the degree of ecosystem impacts caused by a fire) increased eightfold between 1985 and 2017 across western forests (Parks and Abatzoglou, 2020[2]). The duration of the fire weather season, i.e. the annual period in which meteorological conditions are conducive to fire, grew by 27% globally between 1979 and 2019 (Jones et al., 2022[3]), with particularly large increases observed in southern Europe, western and central Asia, South America, western North America, Australia, and most of Africa (Jones et al., 2022[3]) (Figure 1.1).

The growing occurrence of extreme wildfires – i.e. wildfire events that are particularly severe in terms of their size, duration, intensity and impacts – can cause significant impacts on human lives and well-being, ecosystems and the climate system, as well as the economy. Extreme wildfire events have had particularly damaging impacts in recent years. The 2015 wildfires in Indonesia caused economic costs of about USD 16 billion, i.e. 2% of the national gross domestic product (GDP) (UNEP, 2022[4]). The 2018 Mati wildfires claimed over 100 lives in Greece (Kartsios et al., 2021[5]). The 2018 California Camp Fire produced an unprecedented USD 19 billion in economic damages, while in the following year, the 2019-20 wildfires in Australia burned 24-40 million hectares of land and caused an estimated USD 23 billion in economic damages (EM-DAT, 2023[6]; Royal Commission, 2020[7]).

The human costs of wildfires go far beyond lives lost. Wildfires have long-term health impacts that can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and neurological disorders caused by wildfire-induced air pollution, as well as to psychological impacts (UNEP, 2022[4]). In the United States, smoke from wildfires is responsible for 25% of all harmful human exposure to PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) and PM10 air pollution (USDA, 2022[9]). At the global level, the cardiovascular and respiratory impacts of wildfires are associated with 340 000 premature deaths every year (WWF, 2020[10]). The 2015 wildfires in Indonesia caused 100 000 additional deaths as well as acute respiratory infections for over 500 000 people (Uda, Hein and Atmoko, 2019[11]; Edwards et al., 2020[12]), which were associated with a direct health cost of USD 151 million (Glauber et al., 2016[13]). Wildfire-induced air pollution is projected to double by 2050 in several countries, including Canada, Mexico and the United States (Ford et al., 2018[14]). In addition, the traumatic experience of being caught in a wildfire, along with the displacement of populations and the loss of homes, livelihoods and personal belongings, can lead to major psychological trauma. For example, after the 2016 extreme Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada, 60% of the evacuees experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (Belleville, Ouellet and Morin, 2019[15]).

Extreme wildfires can also have negative impacts on ecosystems. The 2019-20 wildfires in Australia caused the death or displacement of an estimated 3 billion animals, while almost 70 threatened species saw up to 50% of their habitat burned (Ward et al., 2020[16]; WWF, 2020[10]). Tree cover damage in the country was nine times higher in 2020 than in 2018 (WRI, 2021[17]) (Figure 1.2). Similarly, following the 2017 Chile wildfires, nearly 40% of critically endangered habitats suffered medium to high damage (van Hensbergen and Cedergren, 2020[18]). Freshwater ecosystems were also impacted during the 2019-20 Australia wildfires, with record fish mortality recorded in estuarine zones downstream of burned areas (Silva et al., 2020[19]). In some cases, increases in extreme wildfire events have also hampered ecosystem recovery after a wildfire. For example, in some areas of the United States, the area where pre-fire vegetation did not grow back to its initial state nearly doubled between 2000 and 2011 (Stevens‐Rumann et al., 2018[20]). By affecting vegetation and soils, wildfires can also affect drinking water quality and increase water-related risks (UNEP, 2022[4]). For example, extreme wildfires can exacerbate drought and flood risk, as burned soils tend to absorb less water and increase run-off. While several studies have examined the short- and medium-term negative impacts of extreme wildfires on ecosystems, more systematic records of ecosystem damage and disruptions are needed to improve monitoring and inform wildfire risk reduction actions.

The economic costs of extreme wildfires are also significant. Between 2000 and 2017, wildfires are estimated to have caused EUR 3 billion of direct economic losses (e.g. lost and damaged assets, crops and livestock losses, etc.) every year in the European Union and USD 2.3 billion in the United States (Marsh & McLennan Companies, 2019[21]). Yet, direct costs only represent a share of higher costs to the economy and do not account for lost tax revenue, reduced property values, business interruptions, reduced productivity and recovery costs, among others. While these costs are often difficult to estimate, some studies suggest that total economic losses from wildfires in the United States could range from USD 63.5 billion to USD 285 billion every year (Thomas et al., 2017[22]). Between 2008 and 2012, the Amazon wildfires caused GDP losses of up to 1% in the state of Acre, Brazil (Campanharo et al., 2019[23]). While there is evidence for selected extreme wildfire events, there is no systematic record of past or future projected economic losses and damages from wildfires at the national or international level.

The wildland-urban interface (WUI), i.e. the area where the built environment and wildland vegetation meet, is where most socio-economic losses and damages from wildfires occur, as the exposure of people and assets is higher in these areas. In the western United States, the number of infrastructure assets destroyed by wildfires has increased by 246% over the past two decades (Higuera et al., 2023[24]). During the extreme 2018 Camp Fire in California, United States, over 18 800 buildings and infrastructure assets were destroyed (Karels, 2022[25]). In the United States, wildfires are estimated to cause a drop in property values of 10-20% on average up to 2 miles away from burned areas (WWF, 2020[10]). Certain economic sectors are particularly affected by wildfires. Between 2008 and 2018, wildfires were responsible for over USD 1 billion in losses in crop and livestock production globally (FAO, 2021[26]), while the 2017 wildfires in Canada alone resulted in the loss of a year’s worth of timber production (Marsh & McLennan Companies, 2019[21]).

In many ecosystems, wildfires (i.e. unintended or uncontrolled fires that occur in wildland areas) are a natural component that provides important ecological functions. Species in these ecosystems may rely on regular fire activity to maintain their reproduction levels and growth (Hincks et al., 2013[27]). However, changing wildfire patterns pose growing challenges to the natural balance of ecosystems.

In ecosystems that are adapted to frequent or intense wildfires, such as boreal and Mediterranean forests, the growing occurrence of extreme wildfires has caused severe disruptions and hampered ecosystems’ natural regeneration capacity (Turner et al., 2019[28]). In the Russian Federation (hereafter “Russia”), the extent of forestland affected by wildfires increased over fivefold between 2001 and 2021 (Figure 1.3).

Wildfires also increasingly occur where natural fire activity is rare, such as in tropical rainforests. In those areas, ecosystem resilience to fire is lower and the potential for irreversible damages is particularly high. For example, in 2016, wildfires affected more than 2.3 million hectares of forest area in Brazil (Figure 1.3) (WRI, 2021[29]). Intensive deforestation, combined with increased wildfire activity, has been associated with a large-scale, long-term tree cover loss in the Amazon region. This is pushing the Amazon rainforest towards a critical tipping point, which, if surpassed, might lead to abrupt and irreversible shifts in vegetation cover in the region, with impacts on global biodiversity and the global carbon cycles (Boulton, Lenton and Boers, 2022[30]; OECD, 2022[31]).

Human activity is the most common source of wildfire ignition and currently accounts for about 70% of the total land surface affected by fire globally (Veraverbeke et al., 2021[33]). The human ignition of wildfires can occur both accidentally (e.g. escaped campfires) or deliberately through arson. In France, Italy and Spain, over 95% of wildfires are caused by humans (WWF, 2019[34]). In the United States, it is estimated that over 80% of wildfires recorded between 2001 and 2009 were ignited by humans through accidents or arson (Hincks et al., 2013[27]). Utility failures, such as loose electricity cables or faulty power plants, were responsible for igniting 40% of the most destructive wildfires in California, including the devastating 2018 Camp Fire (LAO, 2021[35]). Similarly, downed power lines and arson were among the main ignition sources of the extreme 2009 Black Saturday wildfires in Australia (Parliament of Victoria, 2010[36]).

Human-induced ecosystem degradation is a key driver behind growing wildfire risk. The drainage of peatlands increases landscape flammability, as observed in Indonesia, where peatland degradation fuelled the extreme 2015 wildfires (UNEP, 2022[4]). Deforestation in Amazonia’s and Indonesia’s rainforests has also contributed to extreme wildfires, as permanent forest loss has worsened drought conditions and made ecosystems less resilient to wildfires (Nikonovas et al., 2020[37]; Pivello et al., 2021[38]). Certain agricultural and forestry practices, such as planting monocultures and non-native flammable species, also enhance wildfire risk, as shown during the wildfires in Chile in 2017, where non-native eucalyptus provided highly flammable fuel for wildfires over large areas (Barquín et al., 2022[39]).

Rural land abandonment and agricultural demise are other major socio-economic drivers of wildfire risk. Rural populations have played a key role in reducing fuel (i.e. vegetation) accumulation and continuity, including through agricultural practices (e.g. grazing and pruning trees in forests for firewood) and the creation of “mosaic” landscapes of agricultural crops that act as fuel breaks. With rural land abandonment, flammable vegetation encroaches and builds up. At the same time, rural land abandonment reduces the number of people available on the ground to detect and respond to wildfires early on (Moreira et al., 2020[40]). These trends are particularly marked in Mediterranean countries. For example, in Portugal, the rural population decreased from 5.7 million to 3.4 million between 1960 and 2021, i.e. from 65% to 33% of the total population (World Bank, n.d.[41]).

The growing WUI has increased the exposure of people and assets to wildfires, eventually increasing the impacts and losses suffered by communities and economic activities. Between 1990 and 2010, the WUI area in the United States increased by 33% while the WUI population increased by 34% (Figure 1.4), contributing to the devastating wildfire impacts observed in recent years (Radeloff et al., 2018[42]). In Greece, the substantial WUI growth around the city of Athens is likely to have contributed to the devastating impacts of the Attica wildfires in 2018 (OECD, forthcoming[43]).

There is mounting and conclusive evidence of the role of climate change in driving observed increases in wildfire extremes. Climate change influences the occurrence and patterns of wildfires by altering fire weather conditions. Higher atmospheric temperatures increase the occurrence of heatwaves and droughts, while earlier spring snowmelt can extend soil dryness for longer periods (Ellis et al., 2021[44]). In some regions, the reduced precipitation levels induced by climate change increase the dryness of the landscape, while climate change-induced alterations in wind and lightning patterns increase the likelihood of wildfire ignition and facilitate the spread of wildfires (UNEP, 2022[4]; IPCC, 2022[45]; Romps et al., 2014[46]). Besides, climate change also influences the characteristics and amount of fuel available to burn (Halofsky, Peterson and Harvey, 2020[47]). In some cases, increased precipitation during the vegetation-growing season can enhance the availability of fuel in the landscape, while the increased incidence of pests associated with higher temperatures and altered precipitation patterns can increase the amount of dead vegetation available to burn (Stephens et al., 2018[48]; Invasive Species Centre, 2022[49]).

The attributed climate change influence on observed wildfire extremes is stark. Climate change is estimated to have doubled the total forest area burned in the western United States between 1984 and 2015 (Overpeck, Dean and Stapp, 2018[50]) (Figure 1.5). The extreme fire weather that facilitated the 2019-20 wildfires in Australia was estimated to be at least 30% more likely because of climate change, while the extent of the 2017 extreme wildfires in Canada was 7 to 11 times higher because of climate change (van Oldenborgh et al., 2021[51]; Kirchmeier‐Young et al., 2019[52]). A similar link has been established for the 2018 Camp Fire in the United States, where climate change is estimated to have doubled the likelihood of the extreme fire weather that facilitated the occurrence and spread of the blaze (Park Williams et al., 2019[53]; Goss et al., 2020[54]).

While human activities and climate change affect wildfires, wildfires, in turn, affect the climate system by releasing the carbon stored in vegetation and soil into the atmosphere (Figure 1.6). Under normal conditions, wildfires have a limited net influence on global carbon emissions, as wildfire emissions are mostly reabsorbed by regrowing vegetation in the aftermath of the fire (Jones et al., 2019[55]; Bowman et al., 2009[56]). However, with increasingly extreme wildfires, a net transfer of carbon dioxide (CO2) from vegetation and the soil to the atmosphere has been observed (Friedlingstein et al., 2019[57]; Zheng et al., 2021[58]). For example, during the 2019-20 wildfires in Australia, CO2 emissions were eight times higher than in the average wildfire season (van der Velde et al., 2021[59]). In 2020, the emissions from the California wildfires – which amounted to 127 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent – were estimated to be twice as high as the total emission reductions achieved by the state as part of its climate change mitigation efforts between 2003 and 2019 (Jerrett, Jina and Marlier, 2022[60]). By burning vegetation and soil, extreme wildfires in forests and peatlands reduce land carbon storage capacity, further exacerbating this risk. Following the 1998 extreme wildfires in Russia, 2 million hectares of forestland lost their carbon storage capacity for at least a century (WWF, 2020[10]).

Wildfire frequency and severity are set to rise in the future due to climate change (UNEP, 2022[61]). Under a 2°C warming scenario, many regions are projected to experience a large increase in wildfire frequency. Rising temperatures and drought conditions, coupled with changing precipitation and wind patterns, are also likely to extend the duration of the fire season (i.e. the period when weather conditions are conducive to the occurrence of wildfires) in most regions of the world, extending it by over 40 days per year in parts of the world under a high-warming scenario (Xu et al., 2020[62]; Bowman et al., 2020[63]; Jones et al., 2022[64]) (Figure 1.7). As a consequence, wildfire impacts are also likely to grow. Globally, area burned is projected to increase by 19% by 2050 (compared to 2000), under a moderate-emission scenario (RCP 4.5) (Zou et al., 2020[65]), while under a 4ºC warming scenario, wildfire frequency is projected to increase by 30% by the end of the century (IPCC, 2022[45]). By 2100, the yearly burned area in Greece’s forests is projected to increase by up to 20% (compared to 2010 levels), leading to an annual direct cost of EUR 40 million to EUR 80 million by 2100 (Bank of Greece, 2011[66]). In Portugal, wildfire-induced losses in the tourism sector are projected to reach up to EUR 62 million annually by 2030, while by 2050, such losses are expected to at least quadruple (Otrachshenko and Nunes, 2022[67]).

Countries need to adapt their wildfire management systems to limit future wildfire-induced losses and damages. Large and more frequent and intense wildfires will require significant suppression and emergency preparedness efforts, including fire monitoring and early warning systems. More importantly, wildfires need to be tackled at their source by scaling up preventative action. Fuel loads need to be better monitored and managed; ecosystems need to be protected from degradation; planted forest species need to be adapted to changing fire conditions; and wildfire risk assessments need to be better integrated into land-use decisions. Co-ordinated action and a strong enabling environment are required to enable changes to existing practices.

In reaction to extreme wildfires, some countries have significantly scaled up their emergency preparedness and response capacities, with a particular focus on strengthening wildfire suppression. Between 1998 and 2008, Greece doubled the public funding allocated for wildfire suppression, significantly scaling up aerial firefighting capacity (Xanthopoulos, 2008[68]), while the United States significantly increased federal funding for wildfire suppression (Figure 1.8), from an average USD 425 million per year in 1985-99 to USD 1.6 billion per year in 2000-19 (Roman, Verzoni and Sutherland, 2020[69]). Some countries have also enhanced cross-border co-operation mechanisms to support each other during emergency periods. For example, the European Union (EU)’s Civil Protection Mechanism, which co-ordinates disaster response across EU member and neighbouring countries, was further strengthened through the creation of rescEU operation, with a EUR 170 million funding envelope to enhance firefighting capacity across Europe (European Commission, 2022[70]). Several bilateral mutual support agreements also exist, e.g. between Canada and the United States (OECD, forthcoming[71]).

To better detect large wildfires, countries have also enhanced their wildfire risk monitoring capacities by strengthening their weather and fire monitoring systems. The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) and EU Copernicus programme provide near-real time fire activity information (EFFIS, n.d.[72]; European Commission, n.d.[73]). The North American Space Agency (NASA) tracks soil moisture, provides vegetation maps, and monitors fire ignitions, active fires and post-fire recovery (NASA, n.d.[74]). These efforts are critical to detect potentially extreme fires early on and allocate resources accordingly.

Despite these significant efforts, increasing wildfire size, frequency and severity have highlighted the limits of emergency response measures (Xanthopoulos, 2008[68]; Parisien et al., 2020[75]; European Commission, 2021[76]) and the need to reduce the risk of extreme wildfires at the source (Ministry of the Environment and Energy, Greece, 2018[77]; Myers, 2006[78]). Extreme wildfire seasons have strained emergency response resources, limiting their ability to contain impacts. This challenge was observed, for example, during the extreme 2009 Black Saturday wildfires in Australia, which took over one month of firefighting efforts to be suppressed (Caohuu et al., 2015[79]). Similarly, during the 2017 wildfires in the Iberian Peninsula, the rate of fire spread exceeded the available firefighting capacity by three to nine times (WWF, 2020[10]). During the 2018 extreme wildfire season in Greece, the outbreak of multiple wildfires at the same time created a bottleneck in the deployment of firefighting resources, contributing to an unprecedented wildfire death toll in Mati, where over 100 people lost their lives (Xanthopoulos and Athanasiou, 2019[80]). In Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario, Canada, wildfire suppression spending is projected to have to double by the 2071-2100 period to keep the current levels of fire response success (Hope et al., 2016[81]).

In the context of growing extreme wildfire risk, scaling up climate change adaptation measures as part of wildfire risk reduction efforts is critical. Only preventative action can effectively reduce wildfire hazard and exposure and vulnerability to wildfire impacts, while of course climate mitigation actions remain critical to addressing the climate driver at its source.

Wildfire prevention can take several forms (Figure 1.9), including organisational as well as structural measures. Organisational measures include wildfire hazard and risk assessment, awareness raising, as well as legislative and regulatory measures. Structural or “physical” measures include ecosystem-based interventions such as ecosystem protection, restoration and adaptive management, as well as fuel management interventions, including the creation of fuel breaks and buffer zones and the use of prescribed fires. Appropriate institutional, policy and financial arrangements are necessary to enable investments in risk prevention measures.

Healthy ecosystems are more resilient and less prone to negative wildfire impacts. Climate change, combined with ecosystem degradation, has led to more fire-prone conditions in many regions. Following extreme wildfire events, the protection and restoration of degraded forests and peatlands has become a key element in many countries’ wildfire risk prevention efforts. Forest restoration efforts – which can entail interventions such as reforestation, tree diversity restoration, and the control of invasive and underbrush species (i.e. species growing underneath the tree canopy) (Tobin-de la Puente and Mitchell, 2021[83]) – are at the centre of wildfire risk prevention efforts in Costa Rica, Gambia and South Africa (UNEP, 2021[84]; Republic of South Africa, 2022[85]). The United States has recently issued an executive order to protect old-grown forests with a view to reducing wildfire risk (The White House, 2022[86]).

Similarly, in the aftermath of the 2015 extreme wildfires, Indonesia extended the moratorium on issuing new permits for the development on primary forests and peatlands (Wijaya et al., 2016[87]) and established an agency dedicated to peatland restoration (Ward et al., 2021[88]; Wijaya et al., 2016[87]). Yet, further efforts are needed to effectively protect and restore wildland ecosystems from illegal activity and unsustainable land-use changes, as well as to scale up monitoring and enforcement efforts. In some cases, unclear or unknown forest ownership also limits the effectiveness of these measures (The Nature Conservancy and Aspen Institute, 2023[89]).

In light of climate change, some countries have also scaled up their efforts to ensure the adaptive management of forests to reduce landscape flammability. Managing forests in an adaptive manner can include, for example, planting fire-resilient species and excluding particularly fire-prone species in high-risk areas to adapt vegetation cover to growing wildfire and drought risk (Fitzgerald and Bennett, 2013[90]). These interventions are particularly important given the increasing prevalence of highly flammable non-native species in some countries. For example, in mainland Portugal, the extent of eucalyptus forests – which are highly flammable – grew by 62% between 1990 and 2017 (APA, 2020[91]). To address this challenge, the country developed a financial scheme promoting the plantation of native species on private lands to reduce landscape flammability (OECD, forthcoming[92]). However, scaling up and monitoring such adaptive forest management is key, especially in the context of climate change.

Managing fuel accumulation in the wildland-urban interface is critical for reducing wildfire risk and impacts, as it reduces the amount of vegetation available to burn, especially in the vicinity of exposed settlements or assets. Fuel accumulation is usually managed through the use of prescribed fires (i.e. controlled fires to reduce fuel accumulation) and mechanical fuel removal or grazing to create buffer zones (i.e. strips of non-flammable land near settlements) and fuel breaks (i.e. patches of non-flammable land that reduce fuel continuity).

Prescribed fires are a relatively common tool to manage fuel accumulation and wildfire risk. While some countries, such as Australia and the United States, largely rely on prescribed fires to reduce fuel accumulation (Burrows and McCaw, 2013[93]; Melvin, 2021[94]), their use is limited in several European countries. France and Portugal have only recently set up specific legal frameworks to regulate and enable the safe use of fire (Montiel and Kraus, 2010[95]). The traditional use of fire in agricultural and land-use practices has led Australia, the United States and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to engage with indigenous and local communities to integrate the active use of fire in wildfire prevention plans (Pardo Ibarra, 2020[96]; OECD, 2021[97]). In Australia, the enhanced use of cultural fires, i.e. fires ignited by indigenous groups and local communities to manage the land, was associated with a 50% reduction in area burned between 2000-06 and 2013-19 (OECD, forthcoming[98]). Despite the good practices described above, the high-risk perception associated with prescribed and cultural fires, together with limited awareness of their benefits, hampers their effective use in many countries (Müller, Vilà-Vilardell and Vacik, 2020[99]; Montiel and Kraus, 2010[95]).

Fuel breaks and buffer zones are more commonly used fire risk prevention measures. In Australia and Portugal, extended fuel breaks systems that strategically alternate different land cover types have effectively reduced landscape flammability (OECD, forthcoming[98]; forthcoming[92]), while after the extreme 2018 Camp Fire, the municipality of Paradise (California) bought some of the private lands most affected by the blaze to turn them into non-flammable fuel breaks (Brasuell, 2021[100]). Following particularly extreme wildfire events, both Greece and Portugal also mandated the creation and maintenance of buffer strips in high-risk areas. In Portugal, these are mandatory for both new and existing buildings in WUI areas; in Greece, tenants and owners in high-risk areas are required to remove excess vegetation and other flammable materials from the perimeter surrounding their assets before the start of the wildfire season (OECD, forthcoming[92]; forthcoming[43]). Yet, local governments face limited monitoring and enforcement capacities, thus reducing the full potential of fuel break measures (Moreira et al., 2020[40]; OECD, forthcoming[92]).

Acknowledging the importance of private stakeholder engagement in fuel management, many countries have also increased awareness-raising efforts to promote a better understanding of existing risk levels and have developed incentives to encourage active land management in private lands. In the United States, tax credits and deductions are available for farmers and landowners to encourage active fuel management on private lands (Kunreuther and St. Peter, 2020[101]). In Mediterranean countries such as France, Israel, Portugal and Spain, incentives to shepherds to encourage grazing activities on fuel-rich land have proven a winning strategy to contain fuel accumulation (Komac et al., 2020[102]). Portugal’s Condomínio de Aldeia programme promotes active land management through community engagement (OECD, forthcoming[92]). However, low monitoring and enforcement, together with the lack of official land registries and unclear forest ownership, can limit the effectiveness of these measures (The Nature Conservancy and Aspen Institute, 2023[89]). This is the case, for example, in Portugal, where over 20% of forestlands have no or unknown owner and only 46% of forest areas are covered by the land registry. To address these issues, Portugal has recently released a new law which enables the state to carry out fuel management activities in areas of unknown ownership or where the owner fails to carry out the requested management efforts (OECD, forthcoming[92]).

Land-use planning is critical to limit the exposure of human lives and assets to wildfire risk. Most notably, land-use zoning can limit urban sprawl in the wildland-urban interface (see Section 1.1.3). To inform this, wildfire hazard models need to be integrated into land-use planning processes. In recent years, countries have used land-use zoning to reduce wildfire exposure. For example, in France and Portugal, the construction of new buildings is generally forbidden in zones characterised as “high” or “very high” wildfire risk (OECD, forthcoming[92]; Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Portugal, 2021[103]; Kocher et al., 2017[104]). In France, housing development in “moderate” wildfire risk areas is allowed when specific risk reduction measures are adopted, such as the use of non-flammable building materials (Kocher et al., 2017[104]). On the other hand, in Greece, unclear zoning and high demand for development in the WUI, combined with an outdated hazard map, has contributed to housing expansion in fire-prone areas (Triantis, 2022[105]; Blandford, 2019[106]). During the Mati wildfire in 2018, the high number of assets that did not have a building permit contributed to the severe wildfire impacts, resulting in a building destruction rate of 80% (Hellenic Republic, 2021[107]; Blandford, 2019[106]; OECD, forthcoming[43]).

Building codes and standards also play a key role in minimising the impacts of wildfires once these occur. Buildings constructed with non-flammable materials and incorporating fire protections such as metal screens and spark arresters can reduce wildfire impacts fivefold compared to highly flammable structures (Czajkowski et al., 2020[108]). Countries have developed stricter standards for building design and maintenance in high-risk areas. For example, Greece and Portugal mandate the use of non-flammable materials and structural protection measures for new buildings and set out requirements on retrofitting existing ones in high-risk areas (OECD, forthcoming[92]; forthcoming[43]; Hellenic Republic, 2021[107]). In an effort to strengthen building code compliance, some communities in the United States have started to issue fines (Roman, 2018[109]).

As wildfire risk grows, strengthening infrastructure resilience is critical. This includes effectively planning and managing infrastructure to reduce the risk of wildfire ignition, as well as designing infrastructure assets and networks that are themselves resilient to wildfire risk by ensuring the continuity of their services and operations even in the occurrence of a wildfire event. The level to which critical infrastructure systems are resilient to wildfire risk contributes to society's resilience as a whole (IPCC, 2022[110]). Countries have developed regulations to require infrastructure operators to abide by fire safety rules and develop contingency plans. For example, Canada requires its two largest train companies to reduce train speed during high wildfire risk periods, as well as to remove flammable materials from the tracks (Scherer, 2021[111]). Following the extreme 2009 Black Saturday wildfires, the state of Victoria, Australia, established an AUD 750 million Powerline Bushfire Safety Program, which – by upgrading the electricity distribution network and regulating infrastructure management – was successful in reducing wildfire risk from powerline ignition (OECD, forthcoming[98]; Victoria State Government, 2022[112]). In Portugal, the Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan sets the ambition to have 50% of its transport infrastructure companies develop an adaptation or contingency plan for extreme events by 2030 (Government of Portugal, 2019[113]). Yet, in many cases, government regulations lag behind in this field, with wildfire prevention measures often being implemented by infrastructure operators on a voluntary basis.

Information on wildfire hazard and wildfire risk is the basis for all wildfire risk prevention and preparedness decisions. Countries are increasingly aware of changing wildfire patterns and the need to better account for the links between climate change and extreme wildfire risk. An increasing amount of geospatial data has become available, allowing to better understand, model and map wildfire hazard, drivers and behaviour over time. Based on these data, many countries have developed hazard maps that are used to inform wildfire policy interventions throughout the territory. For example, Portugal and the United States have national wildfire hazard maps that classify the territory by hazard level (USDA, n.a.[114]; DGT, n.a.[115]). In Portugal, each municipality is also required to have a wildfire hazard map, which must be updated every ten years (OECD, forthcoming[92]; forthcoming[71]). However, hazard assessment alone is not sufficient to provide a comprehensive assessment of wildfire risk. As exposure and vulnerability are key drivers of risk, wildfire hazard assessments need to be integrated with spatial information on the exposure and vulnerability of human and ecological assets and systems. Yet, in most cases, integrating socio-economic information into wildfire risk assessments remains a challenge. While the United States has started to develop wildfire risk maps, which integrate hazard data with information on human and asset exposure and vulnerability (OECD, forthcoming[71]; Jacome Felix Oom et al., 2022[116]), these are not yet developed systematically by most countries. Persisting data gaps limit the availability of hazard and risk maps at different spatial scales and challenge their regular update. Limitations in wildfire models’ predictive capacity limit the accuracy of existing projections. Besides, even where projections on future wildfire activity do exist, they are often not integrated into risk assessment and planning processes. Overall, countries struggle to integrate and keep abreast of growing scientific knowledge on the complex links between climate change and extreme wildfire hazard.

The drivers of wildfire risk, as well as some of the key tools available to manage those risks, link to the roles and responsibilities of several stakeholders. For this reason, wildfire risk prevention needs to be integrated into the work of many sectors and all levels of government. Forest and land managers, critical infrastructure operators, spatial planning agencies, meteorological services, agriculture ministries, civil protection agencies, local governments, and private property owners all have a critical contribution to make in preventing wildfires. Countries are seeking to leverage this whole-of-government approach in different ways. Australia, Portugal and the United States have developed national wildfire management strategies that provide an overarching policy framework guiding the work of all relevant agencies. For example, Portugal’s National Plan for Integrated Rural Fire Management establishes national policy objectives on wildfire management (OECD, forthcoming[92]). The first mid-term review in 2025 will show how well this ambitious plan has helped foster prevention across government agencies (OECD, forthcoming[92]).

To further reinforce the whole-of-government effort for preventing wildfires, some countries have also created dedicated co-ordinating agencies. In response to the 2017 wildfires, Portugal established the Agency for the Integrated Management of Rural Fires (AGIF), a cross-governmental body under the authority of the Prime Minister that promotes collaboration, fosters knowledge exchange and co-ordinates actions by relevant agencies and stakeholders through cross-governmental committees (OECD, forthcoming[92]). In only a few years, AGIF succeeded in bringing wildfire prevention to the centre of wildfire management efforts in the country. In 2022, Greece created a joint ministry for civil protection and climate change adaptation in an effort to strengthen prevention investments for climate-related risks, including wildfires (OECD, forthcoming[43]).

The degree to which wildfire risk reduction efforts are integrated across all relevant government agencies can be seen in the mainstreaming of prevention considerations into sectoral policies. For example, in Greece, the National Forest Strategy sets out objectives for wildfire prevention by identifying priority areas for action, developing forest maps, informing wildfire management interventions and preparing forest fire prevention plans (OECD, forthcoming[43]; Ministry of the Environment and Energy, Greece, 2018[77]). Similarly, in Portugal, the National Forest Strategy and its subordinate regional forest management programmes encourage the active management of forested lands, while the National Programme for Spatial Planning Policy identifies the rural areas most exposed to wildfire risk and outlines key adaptation actions (OECD, forthcoming[92]; APA, 2020[91]; Council of Ministers, Portugal, 2015[117]; Government of Portugal, 2021[118]).

Despite these promising efforts, wildfire management remains fragmented in many countries. Evidence from Greece and Portugal shows that the limited collaboration and co-ordination across governments, key agencies and sectors has limited the effectiveness of wildfire management (OECD, forthcoming[43]; forthcoming[92]). For example, until recent improvements, collaboration has been low between agencies responsible for wildfire prevention and suppression actors in Greece (GFMC, 2019[119]). The investigations carried out after the 2017 extreme wildfires in Portugal also found that the unclear distribution of roles and responsibilities has led to institutional overlaps or gaps, contributing to the high wildfire impacts (Council of Ministers, Portugal, 2020[120]; OECD, forthcoming[92]). Overall, the effective integration of wildfire prevention into sectoral policies remains the exception rather than the norm.

While strong recognition of the need to invest in wildfire risk prevention can be observed across countries, the increase of available funding to date has mostly benefitted emergency preparedness and response capacities. Wildfire suppression spending in many wildfire-prone countries is still up to six times higher than the recorded risk prevention spending (Figure 1.10). In Greece, the funding allocated to the Forest Service – the main entity responsible for wildfire prevention – shrank by nearly 30% between 2010 and 2017, from EUR 116 million to EUR 83 million (GFMC, 2019[121]; OECD, forthcoming[43]). In many countries, funds initially earmarked for wildfire prevention get diverted to fund emergency response, further exacerbating prevention funding gaps (North et al., 2015[122]).

In some countries, extreme wildfires in recent years have triggered a shift in resource allocation. In response to the extreme 2017 wildfires, Portugal significantly boosted the public budget available for wildfire prevention (AGIF, 2021[123]), bringing prevention and suppression funding to near parity (Figure 1.11). While in 2017 only 20% of wildfire management funding was allocated to prevention, by 2021 wildfire prevention received 46% of all public wildfire funds, reaching EUR 145 million (OECD, forthcoming[92]; AGIF, 2021[123]). Funding for wildfire prevention also increased in Greece in 2022, thanks to support from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility, in addition to national funding efforts. As a result, EUR 72 million were allocated for the AntiNero wildfire prevention programme (Ministry of the Environment and Energy, Greece, 2022[124]; OECD, forthcoming[43]).

Insurance coverage for wildfire risk can also play a key role in scaling up wildfire prevention by identifying areas at risk and incentivising private investments in risk reduction measures. Insurance premiums can be made to reflect the level of exposure and vulnerability of insured assets. For example, lower insurance premiums can be offered to policy holders whose assets are in line with wildfire building standards. In the United States, some insurance companies give a 5% discount on insurance premiums to homeowners that undertake certain wildfire prevention measures (Galbraith, 2017[125]). In California, the “Safer from Wildfires” programme legally mandates insurance providers to reward wildfire prevention efforts undertaken by insured individuals by reflecting these in risk scores and giving corresponding discounts on insurance premiums (California Department of Insurance, n.d.[126]). In the absence of insurance coverage for wildfire risk, governments often step in to compensate for privately incurred losses and damages. Catastrophe risk insurance programmes, such as France’s CatNat system, can be a way to keep insurance premiums affordable while backing up insurance providers through a state guarantee in case of an extreme event (OECD/The World Bank, 2019[127]).

Yet, despite some efforts, countries struggle to secure sufficient insurance availability, affordability and coverage in risk-prone areas. In high-risk areas, access to insurance is rendered ever more difficult by the growing occurrence of extreme wildfires. For example, after the 2018 wildfires in California, insurance premiums rose by up to 500% in some areas. Insurance providers also refused to renew their coverage after the devastating Camp Fire, leaving 340 000 policy holders uninsured (Moss and Burkett, 2020[128]). Even when insurance is available, uptake rates remain low. For example, only 9% of all wildfire losses in Greece were covered by insurance between 1990 and 2019 (OECD, 2021[129]).


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