Nowadays, climate change is a phenomenon with tangible consequences. Extended dry seasons, frequent and intense storms, floods, prolonged heat waves and the increased number of mega-fires make it all the more evident. According to the conclusions of the international workshop “Adaptation to Climate Change in Mediterranean Forest Conservation and Management”, which was organized in Athens in April of 2008 by WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the resilience and the adaptation capacity of Mediterranean forest ecosystems are being critically reduced by the combined impact of climate change and human activity. The combination of climate change with environmental pollution, rapid changes in land use due to the expansion of economic activity and urban areas, and the fragmentation of forest areas by transport infrastructures creates a hazardous situation for Mediterranean forests.

Forest wildfires are the most direct and dramatic consequence of climate change. Dry weather conditions, extended periods of high temperatures and extreme meteorological phenomena, mostly observed in the northern parts of the Mediterranean, contribute to the increase in wildfire frequency, intensity and extent.

According to a recent study by the National Observatory of Athens, presented in the Climate Change and Forest Wildfires section of Oikoskopio (in Greek), the Greek landscape is expected to change dramatically by the end of the century due to the climate change. The number of days of extreme heat will be 5 times as high until 2100, and the number of high wildfire risk days will have increased by 30. The indicative maps and charts presented in Oikoskopio provide information about the expected change of nine parameters related to climate change and wildfires in the immediate future, specifically during the periods 2012–2050 and 2071–2100.

Some of the most representative findings are:

  • Warm days will increase by 50% during 2021–2050 and by 100% between 2071–2100.
  • The average number of days of extreme heat (6.7) during the base period 1961–1990 is expected to be twice as high (12.8) during 2021–2050 and five times as high (30.50) during 2071–2100.
  • High wildfire risk days per year are expected to increase by 30, mostly for the eastern parts of the country, from Thrace to Crete.
  • The rise in temperature appears to be accompanied by an increase in the number of dry days. Eastern Central Greece, Euboea and Thessaly, as well as the Aegean islands and Crete, are the regions that will be most affected.

Nevertheless, the impact of climate change has already become evident in Greece through the devastating wildfires of the summers of 2007 and 2009. In 2007, 2,500 square kilometers were burnt during an exceptionally hot summer with repeated heat waves. Another important fact is the increasing occurrence of wildfires in the conifer forests of mountainous areas, such as the fir forests of Parnon and of the National Park of Parnitha that were destroyed in the 2007 wildfires. These forests lack regeneration mechanisms and, therefore, need human intervention (reforestation) to recover.

The impact of climate change is further evident in the massive drying of pines (e.g., in Ilia) and firs (e.g., in Chelmos and Giona). After examining dry pines in the general area of Ilia, the National Agricultural Research Foundation determined the cause to be an insect invasion brought on by the stress that many of them had undergone as a result of various factors related to climate change.

At the same time, forests play an important part in dealing with the climate change by reducing its impact. They sequester the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide (CO2) and convert it to biomass. They diminish the impact of severe meteorological phenomena and are necessary in preserving biodiversity, while their absence can intensify desertification.

Forests suffer the consequences of climate change and are, at the same time, the first line of defense against it. It is, therefore, imperative to take action against the hostile environment created by climate change.

Contributing to the effort of conserving the country’s natural wealth, WWF Greece has already made integrated proposals concerning the adaptation of forests to climate change available to the state.

Share this