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Wildfire Impacts to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In a recent online workshop with our partner NDK in South Korea, we discussed the relationship between wildfire, ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) and the SDGs. We got some insightful ideas from our guest speaker Dr. Veerachai Tanpipat. It was a fruitful discussion.

Figure 1: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The Member States of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by General Assembly resolution A/RES/70/1 of 25 September 2015. The aim of this resolution is to achieve these 17 goals by 2030 with a view towards ending all forms of poverty, fighting inequalities and tackling climate change while ensuring that no one is left behind.

Though the goals are broad and interdependent. They were made more “actionable” by a UN Resolution adopted by the General Assembly. The resolution identifies specific targets for each goal, along with indicators that are being used to measure progress toward each target. The year by which the target is meant to be achieved is usually between 2020 and 2030. For some of the targets, no end date is given.

As trees cover about 31 percent [1] of the world’s land surface, many SDGs are closely related to the forests. And therefore many SDGs are impacted by forest fires.

In a Jan 2020 report – The effect of wildfires on sustainable development – by UNEP (United Nation Environment Programme), wildfires directly impact 9 of the 17 SDGs:

Goal 1: No poverty

Goal 2: Zero hunger

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

Goal 5: Gender equality

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation

Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

Goal 13: Climate action

Goal 15: Life on land


Figure 2: 9 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are impacted by wildfires

During our online workshop, both our partner NDK and we believed one more SGD is significantly affected by wildfires. Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Workshop participants used some recent wildland fire incidents to show the wildfire impacts to the SDG targets.

Target 11.4: By 2030, strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage

The South Africa wildfire in April 2021 burned vast areas of Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain, historical landmarks and a university library that houses priceless collections of African antiquities.

Naksan Temple in Yangyang county, Gangwon Province, is one of the most renowned temples n South Korea with 1,300 years of history. A forest fire in Oct 2005 destroyed most of the valuable temple structure.

Figure 3:The Table Mountain Fire, Cape Town, April 2021. Source: warrenski on flickr

Target 11.5: By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations

During the 2019-2020 bushfire season in Australia, the mega-fires killed 34 people, burned 18 million hectares of forests, destroyed 5900 buildings, adversely affected the farming and tourism industries and resulted in tens of billion financial loss. 

The Goseong Fire in April 2019 was one the most destructive wildfire in South Korea in recent years. The wildfire started in Goseong County near northeast of South Korea, it spread to the cities of Sokcho, Inje, Donghae and Gangneung. The wildfire burned three days, killed 2 people, burned 529 hectares of area, destroyed over 2000 building, nearly 4,200 people were evacuated, and causing estimated damages of US$4.6m.


Figure 4: The Goseong Fire, South Korea, April 2019. Source: Yonhap

Target 11.6: By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management

According to IQAir’s annual World Air Quality Report, the 2020 historic wildfire season increased air pollution by nearly 7 percent over 2019. The smoke, from wildfires primarily in California, Oregon and Washington, wiped out the country’s pandemic-related clear air gains in 2020.

The 2015 Indonesia Asian haze was an air pollution crisis affecting several countries in South Asia, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

With more greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature and VPD (vapor pressure deficit) [2] will rise, trees and fuel become drier, and the wildfire risks will increase. The world will add 1 billion people in the next 15 years. Most of them will be living in the WUI (wildland-urban interface) because of increasing city property prices and living costs. All these increase the wildfire impacts to cities. 

Glad that we know the directions to mitigate wildfires [3]: forest management, fuel reduction, grid infrastructure improvement, house structure hardening, better urban planning, and early wildfire detection, etc. Everyone can help by joining the journey. The best time is today.




  1. Forest areas are now just over 4 billion hectares. This is down from the pre-industrial area of 5.9 billion hectares.
  2. The Most Important Number for the West’s Hideous Fire Season, The Atlantic, Sep 2020
  3. California Wildfire – Key Recommendations to Prevent Future Disasters, Independent Institute, June 2019


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