Carbon trading: a burning issue for Tiwi Islands
Plans for a national carbon trading scheme will be debated in Federal Parliament next week, but on the Tiwi Islands north of Darwin, Indigenous people are already preparing to do their own carbon bargaining.
Traditionally about half of the Tiwi Islands is set alight every year.
The CSIRO’s Alan Anderson is leading research here which aims to help locals create jobs and money from the burn-off.
“Savannah burning contributes to 3 per cent of Australia’s national greenhouse gas emissions, which is quite a lot,” he said.
“We’ve calculated that it could be worth up to $100 million a year right across northern Australia, maybe up to $1 million dollars in the Tiwi.”
But Dr Alan Anderson says to capitalise on that opportunity, greenhouse gas emissions from fires have to be measured.
He has joined forces with Tiwi Island students and local rangers to do just that.
They are not only measuring gases like methane and nitrous oxide that are released during burning off, but also how fire affects the long term storage of carbon in the bush.
“There’s an enormous amount of uncertainty in the science,” he said.
“We just don’t understand well enough what effects fire is having on tree growth, tree survival, the ability of these ecosystems to store carbon in the trees and in the soil.
“We just have to know exactly if we’re going to be able to position Tiwi people to take an economic advantage out of the carbon opportunities.”
This research is not just focused on the economic benefits.
Tiwi ranger Willy Rioli is teaching students from the Tiwi College about the benefits of cool burning, a technique where smaller areas of land are burned off earlier in the season.
This method reduces smoke from fires and limits the impact on biodiversity.
“We’re doing light burning and we’ve still got grass… a little bit of patchy grass here,” he said. “We’ll leave a bit there, those animals they can go and hide there, see.”
Smaller fires do not burn as high or as hot, so animals have a better chance of escaping up trees or deeper into bushland, and that protects bush tucker stocks.
“Obviously when I was growing up we didn’t have this sort of education,” he said.
“With this sort of education, hopefully it can help the younger generation of kids that are growing up. How to look after own country, more or less.”