The World Is on Fire. Who Struck the Match?

It’s time to address the root causes of the fires.

Across different geographies and time zones, we are witnessing a global fire crisis that is leaving behind destructive trails of smoke, haze and ash. The Amazon fires have dominated the headlines, but forest fires are rampant all across Europe and Asia now.

So what’s happening?


The Amazon Rainforest in South America is popularly known as the lungs of the earth because it produces up to 20% of the world’s oxygen. 

This year alone, over 72,000 fires have been recorded in the Amazon. The fires have burned 790,000 km2 of this 55 million-year-old forest, an area nearly 2.5 times that of Malaysia.

Recent footage of the rainforest engulfed in flames and smoke have shocked the world. 

The resulting smoke engulfed places some 3,500 kilometres away, plunging entire cities into darkness at midday. 

With the Amazon fires, there is evidence that land clearing for cattle farming, illegal mining or agriculture directly caused the fires.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon skyrocketed by an astounding 278% in July 2019 compared to the previous year, while forest fires are up by 70%.


Closer to home, Indonesia’s forests are also burning. Indonesia is currently experiencing its worst annual fire season since 2015, as the continued outbreak of fires have razed down an area at least two-thirds the size of Singapore. 

A massive fire covering 4,200 hectares had broken out at Tesso Nilo in Riau, Sumatra.
©Zulfahmi/ WWF-Indonesia

Riau, Sumatra is experiencing the brunt of the fires this year due to a combination of the dry season and land clearing. Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency has indicated that these agricultural practices were led by commercial concession holders, rather than smallholder farmers.

Clearing out forests disrupts vital ecosystems. This destabilises the natural water cycle and causes undergrowth to dry out, turning the ground into the perfect fire starter. 

Land clearing using fire is still an agricultural practice in some countries.

Fires are used as a tool of the final stage of the deforestation process: first cutting trees, leaving the wood to dry and finally setting fire to it so that the ash fertilises the soil when the rains come.

The combination of these two factors can create wild, uncontrollable fires – as we are now seeing in the Amazon and Indonesia.


This is worse when the fires occur on peatlands, as seen in Indonesia. Peatlands store vast amounts of carbon and emit large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when they burn.

Over time, governments and corporations have been systematically exploiting our most productive forests in a destructive manner.

Current estimates suggest that we have enough land to produce food for the world’s populations, but deforestation from unsustainable agricultural methods has continued at a high cost to both the planet and people.

The magnitude of the fires in the Amazon and Indonesia is a clear signal that things must change. 


What is less talked about, is the dangerous correlation between the fires and an extremely hot and dry climate. 

Rising temperatures and longer periods of drought dry out trees and vegetation. This increases the risk of fires while creating perfect conditions for fires to spread beyond control.
©Zulfahmi/ WWF-Indonesia

The timing of the forest fires is no coincidence. Europe and many parts of the world have been hit by dangerous heat waves linked to the global climate emergency. July 2019 was the hottest July and the hottest month on record globally.

When burnt, forests release huge amounts of greenhouse gases, further exacerbating the climate emergency. Additionally, for countries like Singapore which are surrounded by forests vulnerable to fires, this will also mean a reduction in air quality due to the consequential haze

If this continues, there is no doubt that the vicious cycle of greenhouse gas emissions, rising temperatures and forest fires will continue, and will one day lead to the complete desertification of our forests. 


Watching the ecosystems engulfed in flames and destroyed in an instant, is a massive alarm bell to all that screams ‘EMERGENCY’, but I fear not enough people are listening. 

If you feel terrified, angry, or increasingly helpless, I’m here to remind you (as I had to, to myself) that the fight for our forests must continue.

The time is now to challenge governments, corporations and individuals to address the real causes behind these fires. 

#1 Move towards deforestation-free supply chains 

The first step is to recognise that forests are valuable, finite resources. Robust forest governance and policies are essential to preserving the country’s natural capital. Corporations should strive towards eliminating deforestation and forest degradation from their supply chains. The Accountability Framework Initiative was recently launched to provide companies with detailed guidance to support effective and measurable improvement trajectories towards meeting their commitments.

Consumers can look to eco-labels, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) for assurance that a product was sourced responsibly, with care for environmental and social standards. 

#2 Aim for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

The Paris Agreement, a landmark agreement by the parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, aims to limit global temperature increase to 1.50C above pre-industrial levels by transitioning to a low carbon economy by the end of this century. 

However, governments still need to adopt stricter climate targets if we are to achieve the targets. Corporations and industries should also adopt science-based targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction. Meanwhile, individuals can move towards adopting low carbon-intensive lifestyles, such as adopting plant-based diets or opting for public transport. 

We need to constantly innovate and challenge the status quo because we are now facing an emergency. The stakes are high involving our health, our forests, our planet, and ultimately our future.

Every support counts. We need more equipment before 6 September to stop the fire and protect local communities and Sumatran wildlife from being impacted. Help us here.

If you like reading this, see this shocking surprise in Sabah’s restored forest, why nature is facing its own Thanos, and why it may be too late if we leave it to our kids to fix the planet.

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