One Year Of Wildfires Wiped Out Nearly 20 Years Of California Emissions Cuts

One Year Of Wildfires Wiped Out Nearly 20 Years Of California Emissions Cuts


Wildfire emissions in 2020 alone extinguished nearly 20 years of California emission cuts, producing nearly twice as much carbon as California has cut since 2003, according to a recent study by Environmental Pollution.

The carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from 4.3 million acres of wildfires in 2020 were cited as the second-largest source of emissions in California, above both industry and electrical power generation, the study reported. Regrowth of vegetation is possible, but not likely in the near future due to the continued climate crisis, the study said.

The wildfire emissions study represents a setback for climate-conscious California, which recently passed numerous climate bills in September attempting to reach statewide “carbon neutrality” no later than 2045. Similarly, The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is working towards “zero-emissions” standards for household appliances by 2030, effectively requiring many residents to retrofit buildings with electric heat pumps, and the state will stop selling gas-powered vehicles by 2035.

The wildfires are estimated to have caused $7.1 billion of climate damage in 2020, and larger investments in improved forest management have been recommended to produce significant social benefits, the study reported. In 2020, five fires registered on the top 20 list of fires in California’s history, with one fire spanning over 1 million acres.

Regrowth rates following a wildfire rely on a few factors such as species burned, drought, and active replanting, the study reported. However, even if long-term growth were to occur, projected carbon emissions over the next 15 to 20 years won’t reach the emission reduction target of 1.5 degrees Celsius suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the study said.


Wildfire burn areas continually increased from 1972 to 2018 resulting in current acreage burned expanding eightfold, the study reported. California does not track wildfire emissions for the purpose of climate data and emission goals, yet the study suggests changing that practice to spur an increased incentive in wildfire prevention.

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