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Preventing and fighting extreme wildfires with the integration and demonstration of innovative means

The new context of extreme wildfires requires accelerating the shift towards implementing a more holistic fire management approach that integrates environmental, climate, health & safety/security, cultural and socio-economic aspects with:

  • research, demonstration and deployment of innovative means and methods tailored to extreme wildfire behaviour, such as better and more advanced techniques, models, solutions and capabilities for preventing, predicting, monitoring and fighting wildfires, and mitigating their impact, including better and advanced technologies, equipment and decision support systems for first responders;
  • proactive governance, change of forest management practices, large-scale and community-based risk assessments, awareness and preparedness - where citizens, local communities, the forestry and bio-economy sectors play a central role.

Activities should go beyond the state of the art and previous R&I activities at EU level[[FP7/Horizon2020/COST/JRC, LIFE and Civil Protection projects examples in Projects For Policy (P4P) Forest fires - Sparking fire-smart policies in the EU: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/0b74e77d-f389-11e8-9982-01aa75ed71a1/language-en/format-PDF/source-91693190,

e.g. Firefighter Innovation Network FIRE-IN: https://fire-in.eu

EU Regional/Cohesion projects on forest fire protection and research and innovation

e.g. https://cohesiondata.ec.europa.eu/projects/row-2scn~y6qh_3fwi]] cooperate with ongoing relevant Horizon 2020 projects[[Such as from topic LC-CLA-15-2020 and call H2020 SU-DRS02-2018-2019-2020]] and make best use of existing EU initiatives and services (such as Copernicus, Galileo and EGNOS). Activities should involve relevant international, national and EU agencies (e.g. European Environment Agency (EEA), European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), …) and end-users (such as forest owners, forest-based industry actors, environmental and nature management organisations, firefighters, local and regional authorities, etc) from Member States and Associated Countries. In line with the strategy for EU international cooperation in research and innovation, multilateral international cooperation is encouraged.

The topic will be implemented through two distinct sub-topics. Proposals should address only one of the following subtopics:

Subtopic 1 (Innovation Actions): Actions funded under this call will speed up the pan-European adaptation process to extreme wildfires by advancing and applying research and innovation, including demonstration pilot sites, while making best use of existing data (e.g. remote sensing, in-situ or community-based data), technologies (e.g. Big Data and Artificial Intelligence) and services (as Copernicus, Galileo and EGNOS).

Innovative means and methods should be developed, integrated and demonstrated in different environments across Europe (including EU Outermost regions) and tailored to geographical and socio-economic conditions, with different types of fuels (e.g. forest/bush /peat fire threats), landscapes and biodiversity values (e.g. coastal/alpine/agriculture/rural/Wild-Urban Interface/islands) and scales (e.g. local/regional /national/cross-border/EU/international).

The approach should be systemic: encompassing different climate scenarios, biogeographical/socio-economic contexts, traditional practices and new means for faster and smarter management of all interconnected fire management phases, i.e. prevention and preparedness (including forecasting and landscape management for impact mitigation, adapting tree species composition and forest management practices), detection and response (including fire containment, extinction, potential evacuation and recovery) and post-fire restoration[[Based on CBD guidance on ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction https://www.cbd.int/doc/decisions/cop-14/cop-14-dec-05-en.pdf]] and adaptation to climate change.

Proposals should consider an Integrated Fire Management strategy[[e.g. guidance developed by actions supported under Horizon 2020 topic LC-CLA-15-2020]] to include viewpoints from all parties in a participative way. They should cover all of the fire management phases (i.e. prevention and preparedness, detection and response, restoration and adaptation), while focusing within each phase on a subset of activities, as described below:

Phase A - Prevention and Preparedness

The integration of environmental, climate and socio-economic conditions (including tangible and intangible cultural heritage) with proactive governance (public and private actors), community-based risk awareness, prevention and preparedness activities may include among others:

  • supporting the integration of socioeconomic and environmental information on wildfire causes and impacts into existing EU databases (e.g. EFFIS) with a focus on extreme wildfire events, the causes of wildfire ignitions (e.g. accidental, criminal and natural causes) and the demographic dynamics and trends (e.g. rural abandonment and other land use change activities);
  • improving fire and landscape management of both public and private lands (including forest, agricultural and agro-forest lands using both traditional and innovative approaches for sustainable fuel management, improved forest management practices (i.e. enhanced diversity of forest tree species and forest structure, thinning, agroforestry, etc), including community-based incentive programmes for biomass monitoring and reduction, land requalification, and new bioeconomy value chains that maximise wood and non-wood forest products and services whilst improving biodiversity and resilience;
  • enhancing access to official fire danger index rating and warnings in cooperation with existing EU initiatives (e.g. Copernicus services, EFFIS, with resolution tailored to the conditions), through upscaling the use of mobile apps, digital infrastructure and advanced cyber technologies;
  • building a common culture on risk prevention and preparedness across Europe, including behavioural change of citizens, local authorities, businesses and schools, through education and training, community involvement and awareness campaigns to encourage self-protection, safety and environmental protection (through spatial planning), with special attention to Wildland Urban Interface areas;
  • integrating fire safety knowledge and engineering to support the design, construction, and management of fire-resilient buildings and infrastructures;
  • supporting the integration of wildfire prevention and resilience into governance and insurance models, including alternative risk transfer solutions and products, and accounting for risks due to cascading effects on society at large and critical infrastructures in particular;
  • improve early-warning tools by integrating forest stand bio-geographical data (i.e. tree species composition, soil traits, tree age composition, etc) in forecasting models;
  • improving the understanding of the link between the exposure to smoke and air pollutants from fires and health and well-being in local communities and first responders;
  • developing Broad Earth System studies for weather and climate drivers as well as biophysical feedback of global forest fires on climate to improve existing wildfire information systems from national to global scales[[I.e. Global Wildfire Information System and European Forest Fire Information System.]]- leading to new operational seasonal (coarse) and short-term (high-resolution) forecasts, using climate-vegetation-fires models but also historical wildfires records and paleoclimate evidence.

Phase B - Detection and Response

Anticipation and mitigation of high-impact events will benefit from research and innovation in space, aerial, ground, material and digital technologies, which should be integrated altogether with environmental, climate and social disciplines and existing EU initiatives on monitoring and suppression of wildfires. Activities should be demonstrated in a broad range of weather conditions and geographical scenarios. Activities may include among others:

  • measures to stimulate investments from private sector in new technologies for retrofitting and/or developing new detection & response technologies;
  • fast-track research and innovation in space and aerial means (e.g. satellites, pseudo-satellites, aircraft including drones, remote sensing systems) for detection, targeting and extinction of fires, such as better water-bomber helicopters / planes able to operate safely at night; modular firefighting units fit for cargo/multi-mission aircraft; improved scooping, tanking and discharging;
  • improving firefighters’ and manned & unmanned ground/air vehicles’ location, route management, patrolling and automation in real time - including via (EU) aerial/satellite navigation/observation/communication services - to guide and protect fire brigades and vehicles operating simultaneously to respond efficiently to fires in all conditions;
  • developing near real-time high-fidelity fire and smoke propagation forecasting, based on precise topography, weather, fuel and combustion modelling, via aero-space data and services, advance sensing (e.g. temperatures, winds), machine-learning and supercomputing;
  • enhancing interoperable and secure incident-management, decision-making and communication, coordination and command systems, able to incorporate information from multiple platforms (manned and unmanned) and non-traditional sources (as social media), particularly in non-urban environments and across European countries e.g. air-to-air, ground-to-ground and air-to-ground, exploiting satellite and ad-hoc communication links for near real-time transmissions;
  • developing strategies, procedures and tools for incident management teams to interact with citizens at risk and spread appropriate warnings, evacuation or confinement messages in consideration of human factors filters and psychological dimension, with the use of a broad range of means (including social media…) so that the entire targeted population can be efficiently reached;
  • enabling better integration of wireless sensors, early warning systems, fire retardant rapid deployment, search & rescue and evacuation of persons and animals (e.g. contingency plans) and better connection with other sectors that also monitor forest data, such as Distribution System Operators tracking aerial power lines;
  • developing advanced personal monitoring and protective equipment for emergency responders (e.g. smart garments, gear and breathing apparatus) tailored for wildfire conditions, assisted with advanced ICT decision support systems, land/air robotics and improved fire retardants/extinguishing agents;
  • developing better training, including virtual reality simulators for air fleet and ground resources;
  • enabling better and faster estimates of the impact of fire events on direct losses, including the number of people affected, interruption or damage to critical infrastructure networks, direct economic losses, dispersion of hazards and contaminants dispersion, impact on water sources and other cascading effects.

Phase C - Restoration and Adaptation

Proposals should aim at supporting the socio-ecological transition towards more resilient communities, in particular those most exposed to wildfire risk. Activities may include among others:

  • evaluating and upscaling the deployment of ecosystem-based restoration solutions across various biogeographical contexts, building on the solutions developed by EU-funded demonstration projects on nature-based solutions (NBS);
  • advancing and demonstrating systemic and structural measures for fuel treatments and tree/forest management aiming at resilient wildland-urban interfaces, taking into account the relevant spatial scales and fire ecology principles in relation to climate change;
  • demonstrating sustainable post-fire ecosystem restoration solutions of damaged ecosystems aiming at restoring biodiversity, including local soil microbiota for ecosystem resilience and supported by monitoring services and complementary geospatial analysis;
  • contributing to the definition of a common EU legal framework for the governance systems and operational activities regarding forest and communities protection from climate-related risks;
  • testing and developing public-private cooperation mechanisms to leverage investments from the private sector, including insurance companies in order to stimulate the development of preventive measures and reduce losses from wildfires;
  • supporting mechanisms and promotion of governance systems for restoration and adaptation through the involvement, coordination, and cooperation of different actors and sectors bridging between national and local administrative levels.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between EUR 15 to 20 million would allow the specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

In line with the strategy for EU international cooperation in research and innovation, multilateral international cooperation is encouraged, in particular with United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, Japan, Brazil, South America, Indonesia and South Africa to leverage knowledge, resources and best practices, as well as to decrease risks and increase impact worldwide.

Proposals should ensure that the diversity of concerned actors (e.g. science, governance and practice communities, public and private sectors) is well represented in the consortium to address all phases, and should also dedicate resources to engage in the Coordinated Support Action (Subtopic 2) for clustering and partnering activities with other actions.

Subtopic 2 (Coordination and Support Action): This action aims to ensure that the demonstration of innovative and integrated approaches fulfils the expected impacts, by coordinating and supporting the Innovation Action projects funded under this topic.

Activities may include among others:

  • supporting clustering and cooperation among the projects funded under this topic and with other relevant actions funded under Horizon 2020 (including in this European Green Deal call, such as topic 7 on biodiversity and ecosystems), and the Cohesion and Civil Protection funds.
  • facilitating the integration of the three fire management phases covered by each of the Innovation Action projects funded under this topic;
  • engagement with citizens, local communities, forest owners and the forestry-based industry, nature conservation organisations, insurance and social infrastructure sectors as well as all relevant actors to facilitate the implementation of demonstration projects;
  • extensive and structured knowledge sharing (e.g. Disaster Risk Knowledge Management Centre DRKMC) and evaluation-based analysis of past wildfire events (lessons learnt) to improve the effectiveness of activities and better prevent wildfires;
  • developing recommendations for wildfire prevention and preparedness activities targeted at the different actors involved (i.e. forest owners, nature protection organisations, residents, local and regional authorities, etc);
  • developing better readiness of response units for cross-border, regional, international assistance, in line with the Union Civil Protection Mechanism framework;
  • developing recommendations for harmonized training and standard operating procedures for first responders to improve interoperability, to achieve better preparedness of available assets and to share facilities;
  • facilitating international collaboration and global outreach in the areas covered by this topic.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between EUR 2 to 3 million would allow the specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

In line with the strategy for EU international cooperation in research and innovation, multilateral international cooperation is encouraged, in particular with United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, Japan, Brazil, South America, Indonesia and South Africa to leverage knowledge, resources and best practices, as well as to decrease risks and increase impact worldwide.

The Green Deal explicitly calls to “reduce the incidence and extent of forest fires”. It also calls “to boost the EU’s ability to predict and manage environmental disasters” as an immediate priority. Large-scale and more intense wildfires are becoming an increasing concern. Fire is a natural component in many ecosystems across Europe but more and more Europeans suffer directly and indirectly from wildfires. Between 2017 and 2020, fires have killed hundreds of persons and ravaged forests and Natura 2000 sites not only in Southern Europe, but increasingly also in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe.

In addition to the extraordinary socioeconomic impact in terms of loss of human lives of residents and first responders, health, infrastructures and economic activity, extreme wildfire events have also serious and sometimes irreversible ecological impacts when considering soil degradation, water scarcity and biodiversity loss.

Moreover, wildfires are among the first contributors to climate change, with up to 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions per year[[7–16 Gt CO2-eq per year https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1674927818300376]]. Furthermore, the large surfaces burnt cannot absorb so much CO2 any longer, reducing the climate change mitigation potential of carbon sinks. Extreme wildfires are now observed more frequently in higher altitudes and latitudes and further contribute to accelerating climate change by increased black carbon fall-out on ice/snow and by melting of underlying permafrost.

In addition, large wildfires degrade air quality through the direct emissions of toxic pollutants affecting first responders and local residents, while populations in regions far away from the wildfires can be exposed to other pollutants as the air is transported, with short- and long-term impact on human health.

Climate change, certain forestry practices, ecosystem degradation and rural depopulation increase the depth and breadth of wildfires in the EU. Climate change is predicted to increase fire risk, with longer fire seasons, more frequent fire events, new fire-prone regions and more severe fire behaviour. The burnt area in southern Europe during the 21st century would sharply increase. The number of people living near wildland and exposed to high-to-extreme fire danger levels for at least 10 days per year would grow by 15 million with 3°C warming, compared to now[[JRC’s PESETA IV Project: European wildfire danger and vulnerability in a changing climate: towards integrating risk dimensions (2020).]]. Furthermore, global warming could result in a substantial shift northwards of European ecological domains, making the recovery or re-establishment of non-adapted ecosystems more difficult after a fire. Extreme wildfire events as in Southern Europe in 2017-2018 and in California, Brazil and Australia in 2019, are likely to become common throughout the whole of Europe.

The actions funded under this call topic should jointly contribute substantially to achieving by 2030 the following targets in Europe (with respect to 2019):

  • 0 fatalities from wildfires
  • 50% reduction in accidental fire ignitions
  • 55% reduction in emissions from wildfires
  • Control of any extreme and potentially harmful wildfire in less than 24 hours
  • 50% of Natura 2000 protected areas to be fire-resilient
  • 50% reduction in building losses
  • 90% of losses from wildfires insured
  • 25% increase in surface area of prescribed fire treatments at EU level

In order to maximise impact, the most promising results demonstrated in the actions are expected to be up-scaled and deployed into:

  • national climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies, land use policies and spatial planning, in line with EU policy guidelines and legislation, including forest, biodiversity and bio-economy related strategies;
  • national guidelines and legislation on forest management planning, nature conservation and management of protected areas and habitats, restoration of damaged forests and landscapes, etc;
  • European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) (including forecasts and risk assessments) and the Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre (DRMKC) Risk Data Hub, as well as the Knowledge Centres for Biodiversity and Bioeconomy and the Forest Information System for Europe (FISE);
  • Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) and Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) [[https://ec.europa.eu/echo/what-we-do/civil-protection/forest-fires_en]];
  • Copernicus Emergency Management System (EMS) e.g. for Rapid Mapping, Risk & Recovery; Copernicus Land Service e.g. for monitoring changes in land cover and land use; Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service e.g. for detecting, monitoring the intensity of fires and forecasting pollutants propagation; Copernicus Security Service e.g. for support to EU external action; the Group on Earth Observations[[http://www.earthobservations.org/documents/gwp20_22/GWIS.pdf]],[[http://www.earthobservations.org/documents/gwp20_22/SPACE-SECURITY.pdf]] and Galileo Emergency Warning Service;
  • the planned Horizon Europe Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change including Societal Transformation - with a strong focus on citizens’ engagement;
  • EU co-funded regional and interregional initiatives promoting climate change adaptation, risk prevention and disaster resilience e.g. to support environmental areas and regional civil protection infrastructures and units to prevent and fight wildfires;
  • at international policy level, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), placing disaster risk reduction as a key element of sustainable development efforts;
  • international standardisation bodies for international industrialisation of solutions, such as the International Forum to Advance First Responder Innovation (IFAFRI) among others.