Widespread increases in future wildfire risk to global forest carbon offset projects revealed by explainable AI (Papers Track)

Tristan Ballard (Sust Inc); Gopal Erinjippurath (Sust Global); Matthew W Cooper (Sust Global); Chris Lowrie (Sust Global)

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Carbon offset programs are critical in the fight against climate change. One emerging threat to the long-term stability and viability of forest carbon offset projects is wildfires, which can release large amounts of carbon and limit the efficacy of associated offsetting credits. However, analysis of wildfire risk to forest carbon projects is challenging because existing models for forecasting long-term fire risk are limited in predictive accuracy. Therefore, we propose an explainable artificial intelligence (XAI) model trained on 7 million global satellite wildfire observations. Validation results suggest substantial potential for high resolution, enhanced accuracy projections of global wildfire risk, and the model outperforms the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research's leading fire model. Applied to a collection of 190 global forest carbon projects, we find that fire exposure is projected to increase 55% [37-76%] by 2080 under a mid-range scenario (SSP2-4.5). Our results indicate the large wildfire carbon project damages seen in the past decade are likely to become more frequent as forests become hotter and drier. In response, we hope the model can support wildfire managers, policymakers, and carbon market analysts to preemptively quantify and mitigate long-term permanence risks to forest carbon projects.