Several European nations such as Italy, France, Greece, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain have in recent months struggled to cope with raging wildfires - driven by deadly heatwaves and drought - which have displaced thousands of people.

As well as stretching emergency services to breaking point and causing harm to both the environment and people, wildfires release planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2), further fuelling climate change and extreme weather conditions.

Globally, forest fires are getting worse – with the 2021 fire season the second-worst on record, according to the University of Maryland and monitoring service Global Forest Watch (GFW).

New data published on Wednesday by GFW - which is run by the World Resources Institute, a U.S.-based think-tank - showed that forest fires are becoming more widespread and burning about twice as much tree cover now than they did 20 years ago.Here is what GFW researchers found out about forest fires worldwide using satellite imagery - and why it matters:

How bad are forest fires today?
Forest fires now cause 3 million more hectares of tree cover loss each year than they did in 2001.

These fires accounted for more than a quarter of all tree cover loss over the past two decades. Non-fire related factors range from clearing land for logging to river meandering.

Last year was one of the worst for forest fires since the turn of the century, causing 9.3 million hectares of tree cover loss globally - more than a third of all losses in 2021.

Climate change is a major driver of the rise in fires, with extreme heatwaves five times more likely now than 150 years ago and expected to become even more frequent as the planet continues to warm.

Hotter temperatures dry out forests and landscapes to create the ideal environment for larger, more frequent forest fires. This results in higher CO2 emissions, further exacerbating climate change and in turn contributing to more fires.

Where do the worst forest fires occur?
About 70 per cent of all fire-related tree cover loss over the past two decades occurred in boreal forests found in the far northern regions including Canada, Russia and Alaska.

While fire is a natural part of how boreal forests function ecologically, fire-related tree cover loss increased by a rate of about 110,000 hectares (3 per cent) per year over the last 20 years.

The increase in boreal forest fires is likely due to northern high-latitude regions warming at a faster rate than the rest of the planet, the new research said.

This leads to longer fire seasons, greater fire frequency and severity, and larger burned areas in these regions.

Read the full article about wildfires in Europe at Eco-Business.