Australian Wildfire Scheme Creating Indigenous Interest

Australian Wildfire Scheme Creating Indigenous Interest

2 December 2009

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Australia —

An Australian project tapping Aborigines’s knowledge to avert devastating wildfires that stoke climate change is the world’s best example of linking indigenous peoples to carbon markets, the U.N. University said last weekend.

Other parts of the world, especially Africa, could also tap centuries-old local practices to help slow deforestation that releases heat-trapping carbon dioxide. In return, local peoples could get jobs and cash from carbon markets, it said.

A project backed by oil group ConocoPhillips in northern Australia has cut carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 538,000 tons over three years and generated 200 jobs by helping avert wildfires, it said.

Under the scheme, Aborigine rangers fight fire with fire—setting small blazes early in the dry season to create fire breaks and a patchwork of burned and unburned savannah.

That helps avoid far more damaging wildfires when vegetation gets tinder dry at the height of the dry season. Results can be monitored by satellites. It also protects wildlife by enabling animals, from snakes to kangaroos, to escape the small blazes.

“This experience is the best example in the world of indigenous and local communities using the emerging carbon market to develop culturally appropriate livelihoods,” U.N. University (UNU) Rector Konrad Osterwalder said in a statement.

“The lessons learned from this experience are invaluable, especially now that there are billions of dollars available to local communities worldwide to help them take climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.”


A U.N. conference from December 7-18 in Copenhagen is due to work out new ways to slow deforestation in developing nations. The United Nations estimates that deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the Australian project, ConocoPhillips agreed to pay 1 million Australian dollars ($900,900) per year into the project over 17 years to help offset emissions from a liquefied natural gas plant in Darwin Harbour.

The offsets are due to be recognized under the proposed Australian Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Another group, the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, has raised $7.2 million from the government toward $27.6 million needed for four extra projects, aiming to create 1.1 million tons of carbon credits a year.

And the project could be mimicked in other countries. Maasai herders in Kenya, for instance, use similar fire techniques.

Indigenous peoples also guard against drought with small dams, by varying plantings of crops, or switching from plantings to hunting and gathering, the UNU said. Traditional methods are also used to protect watersheds or coasts.
“There are real opportunities in climate change despite all the doom and gloom about designing projects,” said Sam Johnston, of the UNU’s Yokohama-based Institute for Advanced Studies.

The Australian project showed benefits for local peoples. “Generating income for remote communities in Sudan, for instance, is hard. This is a possible model,” he told Reuters.

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