In many vegetation types of the globe fire applied in agriculture and pastoralism and the occurrence of natural wildfires (natural fire regimes) are established elements in natural ecosystem processes and sustainable and productive traditional land-use systems. Excessive application of fire due to rapid demographic and land-use changes, however, increasingly lead to destruction of productivity, carrying capacity, biodiversity and vegetation cover. Climate variability such as periodic extreme droughts caused by the ENSO phenomenon add to the severity of fire impacts. Projected demographic and climate change scenarios suggest that this situation will become more critical during the next decades.The state of fire science (fundamental fire research, fire ecology) in most vegetation types, and the results of biogeochemical and atmospheric sciences research of the last decade provides sufficient knowledge for supporting decision making at fire policy and management levels. It has been observed, however, that in many countries this wealth of knowledge and expertise is either not known or is not readily accessible and available for developing adequate measures in fire policies and management. Consequently, an early warning, monitoring and general information system is needed which national and international agencies involved in land-use planning, disaster management or in other fire-related tasks can utilize for planning and decision making.
Establishment of the GFMC in 1998
Following the recommendations of the UNECE/FAO/ILO Seminar Forest, Fire and Global Change (Russia 1996) and a number of international conferences (notably the Second International Wildland Fire Conference, Vancouver, Canada, 1996), the UNECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire proposed the establishment of an institution which at that time was preliminarily designated as a Global Fire Management Facility. On the basis of these recommendations the Government of Germany through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, in June 1998 provided initial funding for the establishment of the entity which was designated Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), which initially operated in the 1990s as a contribution to the International Decade for Natural Hazard Reduction (IDNDR) and its successor arrangement, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). The GFMC was inaugurated at the FAO Meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires (Rome, October 1998).
GFMC provides a global portal for wildland fire documentation, information and monitoring and is publicly accessible through the Internet. The regularly updated national to global wildland fire products of the GFMC are generated by a worldwide network of cooperating institutions. Web-based information and GFMC services include:
Early warning of fire danger and near-real time monitoring of fire events (this includes the currently developing Global Wildland Fire Early Warning System and a global portal to existing national, regional and global fire weather and fire danger rating systems)
Interpretation, synthesis and archive of global fire information
Support of nations and international organizations to develop long-term strategies or policies for wildland fire management, including community-based fire management approaches and advanced wildland fire management training for decision makers, especially in the prevention and preparedness of wildfire disasters
Serve as advisory body to the UN system through the coordination of the UNISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group and the UNISDR Global Wildland Fire Network
Working at the interface between the science community and the user community the research and development work of the GFMC is targeted at providing capacity building and delivering problem-oriented products and solutions. The contribution of the GFMC to the UNU mandate includes applied research for the development of concepts for capacity building in advanced wildland fire management. Depending on projects and requests the GFMC services are covering:
Methods of science and technology transfer for application in local fire management (wildland fire prevention, preparedness, suppression, rehabilitation) under different cultural, socio-economic and ecological environments
Methods and application of people-centered participatory fire management (Community-Based Fire Management)
Development of national strategies and policies for wildland fire management, including legislation
Development of standards for international cooperation in wildland fire management (fire management guidelines, common terminology, standard procedures for cooperation in wildland fire emergencies)
Training courses for international wildland fire management specialists, including experts for assessment and intervention missions
Project implementation partner of donor / development aid organizations (e.g., GIZ)
Since 2008 the GFMC is serving as Secretariat of the International Fire Aviation Working Group (IFAWG), a consortium of countries with major aerial firefighting assets working under the umbrella of the UNISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group.
Most recently the GFMC work is focusing on reducing threats to human health and security caused by vegetation fire smoke and by fires burning on terrain contaminated by unexploded ordnance, land mines and radioactivity, and wildfires occurring as collateral damages of armed conflicts. In this regard the GFMC is meeting the UNU mandate to address peace and development, and post-crisis humanitarian and environmental problems. The political and capacity building outreach work is financed through dedicated projects by a large variety of sponsors.
UNECE/FAO Regional Forum on Cross-Boundary Fire Management
Between 1993 and 2014 the GFMC coordinated the thematic work under the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) by leading UNECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Forest. The work of the Team focused on providing guidance to member states through transboundary cooperation in fire management.
In 2013 the GFMC had been entrusted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to prepare and organize the UNECE/FAO Regional Forum on Cross-boundary Fire Management (28-29 November 2013 at the United Nations in Geneva). The Forum was attended by 22 UNECE Member States and representatives from other regions, non-government organizations, regional and international organizations (ASEAN Secretariat, SADC Secretariat, Council of Europe, OSCE), and the United Nations (UNECE / FAO Forestry and Timber Section; FAO; UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction / UNISDR; OCHA Environmental Emergencies Section, Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit, Emergency Services Branch; Secretariat of the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution). The main objective of the Forum was to elaborate recommendations to UNECE member states and the international community to build resilience of nations and communities to wildfire emergencies and disasters by enhancing national and collective international fire management capability through exchange of expertise.
Based on the discussion of several preparatory studies and documentations, the participants of the Forum came up with a set of recommendations that are published on the website of the UNECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire.
The recommendations addressed among other:
Need for the promotion of the understanding of and the response to the transboundary effects of fire
Need for expanding the scope and strengthening of international cooperation in fire management
Application of a holistic approach to wildland fire management at landscape level
Adoption and continued development of the International Wildfire Preparedness Mechanism (IWPM) and the Voluntary Fire Aviation Guidelines
Need for the exploration of options for the transition from voluntary rules to a more formalized regulatory framework, including the exploration of options to establish a UN Secretariat mandated with the implementation of a global fire management programme that should have a key role in facilitating the free and open global transfer of knowledge.
Suggestion to seek the interest of UN Organizations to become involved.
During 2014 the GFMC followed up working, regional with the United Nations family and international organizations on three main scenarios at various time scales:
Long-term Perspective: Development of an International Agreement on Cross-boundary Fire Management
Medium-term Perspective: Creation of an International Wildfire Preparedness Mechanism (IWPM) and introduction of the “Voluntary Guidelines for Fire Aviation
Short-term Perspectives (I): Future of global cooperation efforts by the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) and the Global Wildland Fire Network (GWFN) in partnership with the United Nations and international organizations including NGOs.
In November 2014 the International Wildfire Preparedness Mechanism (IWPM) was launched. The IWPM, currently hosted by the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), is a non-financial instrument serving as a broker / facilitator between national and international agencies, programmes and projects to exchange expertise and build capacities in wildland fire management and particularly in enhancing preparedness to large wildfire emergency situations. The IWPM has been developed in tandem with the International Fire Aviation Guidelines and the International Manual of Common Rules for Fire Aviation.