Fighting Fire with Fire
The smart use of fire for huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Burning off to reduce emissions. But that’s exactly what’s going on across many parts of Australia.
For tens of thousands of years, Australian flora and fauna evolved in the presence of fire, indeed they depend on it for regrowth and regeneration. Much of this fire was lit by Indigenous Australians who – for at least 50,000 years – lit small fires as they moved around the landscape. This helped them hunt for food, clear pathways and regenerate the bush.
With European settlement came a change to the traditional Indigenous way of life, and burning was interrupted. Without regular people-lit fires in the cooler months, dry grass builds up and provides fuel for much bigger bushfires caused by lightning at other times of the year. These hotter, larger fires have a devastating effect on vegetation and animals in their path, and they release huge volumes of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. This is a very bad outcome for climate change.
Working with Indigenous partners, we are combining traditional ecological knowledge with the latest in fire science to help deliver fire programs across vast areas of Australia. Indigenous rangers in northern and central Australia set strategically placed smaller fires at the right time of year, which burn cool and low. This recreates the mosaic pattern of burning that occurred prior to European settlement, which supports a wider diversity of wildlife and quells raging hot season wildfires.
Creating conservation dollars from carbon
Through this improved burning, Indigenous groups can demonstrate that they reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. This generates what’s called a ‘carbon credit’ where one less tonne of carbon dioxide emitted equals one carbon credit.
If another organisation wants to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions but can’t, it can instead purchase these carbon credits off someone else. The Australian Government also acquires these credits through the Emissions Reduction Fund to help meet Australia’s 2020 emissions reduction targets. The sale of carbon credits by Indigenous groups thereby generates income, which is applied to conservation land management. It’s a win for everyone.
This work has prevented hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere by changing fire management across many millions of hectares—the equivalent of taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road—while generating millions of dollars in revenue for ongoing conservation work at locations like Fish River Station.
Managed correctly, fire can have huge benefits for people and nature, including tackling climate change.
We would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land we help to conserve and pay respect to the Elders both past and present.