The UNISDR Global Wildland Fire Network and Wildland Fire Advisory Group

In keeping with the work of the Working Group on “Fire and Related Environmental Hazards” established under the IDNDR programme on Early Warning, the presentations and recommendations of the IDNDR Programme Forum 1999, and in accordance with the Framework for the Implementation of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and its associated partner, the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) as well as the UN-FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire, suggested, in 2000, to create an interagency “Working Group on Wildland Fire”.

This proposal was in line with several declarations made in international conferences during the 1990s and intended to bring together both the technical members of the fire community and the authorities concerned with policy and national practices in wildland fire management to realise their common interests of fire risk management and disaster reduction at global scale. The UNISDR Inter-Agency Task Force for Disaster Reduction (IATF) at its second meeting on 11 October 2000 agreed to establish the Working Group on Wildland Fire (Working Group 4 [WG-4]).

Through the Working Group it was envisaged to establish an interagency and inter-sectoral forum of UN and other international agencies and programmes, and mechanisms of information and task sharing in the field of reducing the negative impacts of fire on the environment and humanity.

One of the priority fields of activity to be addressed by WG-4 was:

Establishment of, and operational procedures for, a global network of regional- to national-level focal points for early warning of wildland fire, fire monitoring and impact assessment, aimed at enhancing existing global fire monitoring capabilities and facilitating the functioning of a global fire management working programme or network.
At the 2nd meeting of WG-4 (3-4 December 2001) it was decided to give priority to the establishment of the “Global Network of Regional Wildland Fire Networks”.

The envisaged timeframe for setting up the network was January 2002 – July 2003. The 3rd Global Wildland Fire Conference and the International Wildland Fire Summit (Sydney, 3-6 and 8 October 2003) was used as a platform to convene representatives from regional networks under the parent body, the UNISDR Global Wildland Fire Network (GWFN).[1]

The strategy agreed by the Summit (“Strategy for Future Development of International Cooperation in Wildland Fire Management”) includes the following agreement:

“The Regional Wildland Fire Networks will be consolidated, developed and promoted through active networking in information sharing, capacity building, preparation of bilateral and multilateral agreements, etc. This process will be facilitated through regional Wildland Fire Conferences and Summits in cooperation with the International Liaison Committee and the UN-ISDR Working Group on Wildland Fire”. [2]
At the International Wildland Fire Summit a meeting was held with the regional fire management groups mandated under the auspices of the UN (UNISDR Working Group on Wildland Fire, ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire, Fire Management Working Group, FAO North American Forestry Commission [NAFC] and the Forest Fire Group of FAO Silva Mediterranea). This was the first joint meeting of the four UN groups. A key output of the joint meeting was the recommendation to maintain a body under the auspices of the UN to enable the international community to maintain a unifying platform for the UN and jointly with non-UN groups and agreements.

To support the work of the GWFN the IATF accepted the proposal to create a Wildland Fire Advisory Group (WFAG) under the auspices of the UNISDR. The WFAG represents an advisory body to the UN system aimed at providing technical, scientific and policy-supporting advice to the UN family through the UNISDR and the IATF, and acting as a liaison between the United Nations system, the Global Wildland Fire Network and its supporting partners. The participation and support from following bodies is essential: UN agencies and programmes, other international organizations, non-government organizations, government agencies, inter-governmental institutions and agreements, civil society, academia, the International Liaison Committee (ILC) of the series of International Conferences on Wildland Fire and the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) (to act as convener and secretariat).[3]

Following the International Wildland Fire Summit of 2003 the WFAG worked hand in hand with the International Liaison Committee (ILC) of the series of International Conferences on Wildland Fire to prepare the next conference – the 4th International Wildland Fire Conference, hosted by Spain in 2007. During that conference a thematic workshop was held on Aviation Management on 17 May 2007. The aim of the session was to identify opportunities for multilateral cooperation to improve the safety, effectiveness and efficiency of aerial fire fighting. The recommendations encompassed:[4]

  • the need to continue to identify opportunities for sharing of information and resources;
  • the need to establish frameworks to properly evaluate the net benefit (including accounting for benefits of prevention of losses) of application of aerial means;
  • the need to ensure that aerial operations are managed, supervised and supported to a high standard, and are properly integrated with other aspects of fire operations;
  • the establishment of a formal network to facilitate the continued sharing of information, with a priority on safety-related information
  • the need to standardise approaches to integrated management of aerial means.

One year later the first International Aerial Firefighting Conference was convened in Athens, Greece, 21-22 October 2008. The conference brought together the aerial fire community and those working on the ground.

By summarizing the presentations and discussions of the Conference the GFMC elaborated on the repeatedly stressed need for the development of internationally agreed standards and protocols for international cooperation in fire management including aerial firefighting operations. These requests are in line with several international initiatives, such as the recommendations of the 2003 International Wildland Fire Summit on the use of the Incident Command Systems (ICS) as standard for cooperation in fire emergencies, or the development of bilateral agreements that could take advantage of existing ones or a template adopted by the Summit. The recommendations of the Summit are carried on by the UNISDR Global Wildland Fire Network.

GFMC also directed the attention to the Rosersberg Initiative of the United Nations international Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies (AGEE), which aims at strengthening the global regime that governs environmental emergency response and preparedness. The initiative is currently addressing (a) advocacy for and training on environmental emergencies, including wildfires, (b) analysis of relevant international and regional arrangements that govern the response and response preparedness to environmental emergencies and, based on this analysis, recommendations changes and improvements for the international environmental response area; and (c) review of operational aspects of environmental emergencies with the aim of developing best practice guidance for use by national authorities.

Participants of the conference expressed strong support for continuing the formation of cooperative mechanisms. This would ultimately lead to establish two groups that would attend to interests of the aerial firefighting community. The first group would be relatively compact and streamlined – probably based around representatives or key contact points from participating jurisdictions (government or semi-government people, nominated by their country / jurisdiction). This notional / anticipated group could be designated “International Fire Aviation Working Group”. The second group would be more inclusive, and would provide for membership of all interested parties, including from the supplier industry, and would be more of an “association”. This anticipated group could be designated “Aerial Firefighting Association”. The “Fire Aviation Working Group” could fit in the UNISDR framework as an advisory committee. The second group needs some more thinking but might be best formed either independently or perhaps in conjunction with an existing group like the International Association of Wildland Fire.

During 2009 and 2010 the GFMC, on behalf of the WFAG, convened a number of teleconferences of interested parties to develop draft terms of reference for an International Fire Aviation Working Group (IFAWG). Further work was undertaken at various side meetings to international aerial firefighting conferences and meetings.
As a result, an initial core group met formally at the GFMC offices in Freiburg, Germany on 26 June 2010 and endorsed a mission, terms of reference and action plan for the IFAWG (see separate record of meeting).

On 27 June 2010 the endorsed mission, terms of reference and action plan were presented to a meeting of the WFAG.

[1] http://www.fire.uni-freiburg.de/GlobalNetworks/globalNet.html

[2] For details of the preparation and outcomes of the International Wildland Fire Summit see:


[3] www.gfmc.org or http://www.fire.uni-freiburg.de/. For a full text of the yearly updated status paper of the Global Wildland Fire Network see: http://www.fire.uni-freiburg.de/GlobalNetworks/RationaleandIntroduction.html

[4] The full text of the Communiqué is available online at: