In 2021, more than nine million hectares of trees were burned down by forest fires – land mass the size of Portugal.
That’s according to research by Global Forest Watch, claiming that a staggering 16 football pitches-worth of trees were lost each minute last year.
It considers climate change a key factor in the increase in wildfires, with Russia significantly affected.
Of the nine million hectares burned down, five million were on Russian soil.
Global Forest Watch has revealed that its new form of data allows it to distinguish between trees burned down by fires and those lost to agriculture.
James MacCarthy, an Analyst for the company, stated: “It’s roughly twice what it was just 20 years ago. It is kind of astonishing just how much fire activity has increased over such a short amount of time.
“What’s most concerning is that fires are becoming more frequent, more severe and have the potential to unlock a lot of the carbon that’s stored in soils there.”
The study stresses that the loss of trees is not only caused by climate change but exacerbating it; trees and soil store carbon dioxide and with less of them, the more reaches the atmosphere.
The unprecedented impact on Russia was a 31% increase in trees lost to fires, which the researchers warn would be highly unlikely without human actions.
MacCarthy concluded: “Deforestation changes local and regional climates and removes a lot of the evapotranspiration that help keep temperatures low and more humid.
“So, cutting down these forests is actually making them hotter and drier and making them more prone to fires.”