As Australia's federal parliament prepares to vote this week on a
sweeping carbon trading program, scientists say that aboriginal fire
management practices could help reduce the country's greenhouse gas
emissions. Indigenous techniques have limited the severity and scale of
brushfires that break out every year across northern Australia's vast
About 90 percent of the brushfires in Australia occur in the country's far north.
year large areas of savannah are inundated during the wet season, which
accelerates the growth of vegetation. Traditionally, Aboriginal people
burned off small sections of grassland to limit the damage from
wildfires during the drier months.
The use of strategically
positioned spot fires is part of a range of indigenous techniques that
reduce the carbon emitted during planned burn-offs.
Since the European settlement of Australia the aboriginal fire management practices have faded.
Scott Heckbert, an environmental economist at Australia's national
science agency, the CSIRO, thinks that aboriginal knowledge can help
reduce carbon pollution.
"Being able to go out in the early
dry season when fires that are lit don't turn into massive infernos,
they can create a mosaic of patchiness in the fuel that exists on the
ground. In the late dry season, large wild fires that will inevitably
start do not carry for thousands of kilometers across the landscape, as
would happen in a completely unmanaged situation," he said.
notes that wildfires account for about three percent of Australia's
carbon emissions. Scientists have estimated that the widespread use of
traditional fire management methods could cut the country's greenhouse
gas emissions by up to five million tons.
reductions under a proposed carbon trading system could generate
millions of dollars for indigenous communities, which are some of
Australia's most disadvantaged.
Some aboriginal groups are
considering renting out their woodlands and plains to store carbon as
part of giant sequestration programs. Those plans aim to harness the
ability of trees and soil to soak up carbon dioxide.
is one of the world's worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gases,
which scientists think contribute to global warming. Federal lawmakers
meet this week to vote on the government's ambitious carbon trading
It would compel companies to buy permits for every ton
of carbon they emit, a mechanism designed to provide financial
incentives to reduce pollution. It would cover about 75 percent of
emissions from Australia's one thousand largest polluters.