How Brazil is using fire management to protect its biodiversity and the climate

Firefigthers watching controlled fire in dusk

Fires for climate protection and biodiversity. Picture: ©Leonardo Milano/GIZ Brazil

The middle of Brazil is home to the most important water resources in South America and one of the world's most species-rich ecosystems. 'Cerrado' is the name given to the vast savannah landscapes that cover an area of more than two million square kilometres – almost six times the size of Germany. However, the biome is under threat from the expanding agricultural industry and annually recurring vegetation fires. Both have serious consequences, such as the loss of a global carbon reservoir and the loss of biodiversity, negative socio-economic effects for the local population, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions and smoke-related health problems. The Cerrado accounted for around 60 per cent of Brazil's land-use-related CO2 emissions in 2012.

The IKI project 'Prevention, Control and Monitoring of Bushfires in the Cerrado', which is financed by the German Environment Ministry, supports the improvement of fire management in combination with new monitoring systems for bushfires and deforestation. Within this context, integrated fire management entails more than just fire-fighting. It also includes fire prevention, controlled handling of fire, sustainable land use, fire-free alternative sources of income and participatory planning processes. This approach makes it possible to minimise conflicts between the protection of the environment and the justified interests of the local population in utilising resources.

At the Sixth International Wildland Fire Conference, representatives of the Brazilian Environment Ministry and other project partners presented the experiences they had gained in introducing integrated fire management. The conference, whose theme was 'Fire of the Past, Fire in Future', took place from 12 to 16 October in South Korea. With more than 3000 participants comprising practitioners, researchers and policymakers, it is the largest conference of its kind in the world. Operating under the patronage of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UN-ISDR), it offers an international platform for the exchange of experiences on approaches to addressing forest fires.

The final declaration noted the need to strengthen international cooperation on fire management, promote municipal participation and integrate the issue into the international debate on climate change. The aim in future is also to raise awareness of politicians, the media and civil society on the issue of fire management with a view to controlling vegetation fires more effectively.

Particular attention was garnered by the announcement that the next International Wildland Fire Conference will be organised by Brazil in 2019. This demonstrates the crucial importance that Brazil now attaches to the issue, thanks in part to the contributions made by the IKI project.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and KfW Development Bank have been implementing the project together with the Brazilian Environment Ministry and other partners since 2011.