Overview of the Australian Experience

  • Australia is leading the world in terms of experience in managing wildfires and understanding the role that fire plays in climate change.

    For thousands of years, indigenous peoples in Australia have used fire as a traditional form of land management. In many cases, these practices have been interrupted, often resulting in broad, high-intensity fire regimes and correspondingly high emissions.

    Recent experience in remote north Australia shows that strategic reintroduction of traditional, early dry season fire management practices can reduce the amount of biomass burnt by savanna fires and reduce emissions. When coupled with carbon market participation, or through funding from other sources, this reduction has also provided meaningful income opportunities for remote Indigenous communities.

    Australia’s indigenous savanna fire management projects have also demonstrated notable co-benefits, improving biodiversity, reinvigorating cultural ties to country, improving food security and health, enhancing human capital, and helping remote communities adapt to climate change.  As of 23 November 2015, there were 55 savanna projects registered by Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator. The Regulator has contracted 7.1 million tonnes of CO2-e from savanna projects. Several of these are indigenous savanna fire management projects, located across three Australian states.

    Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGGI) accounts for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from savanna burning specifically for the long-lived chemical species, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Savanna fire management in tropical north Australia was an approved offset methodology under Australia’s Carbon Farming Initiative,  with methodologies for two rainfall zones now approved under the Emissions Reductions Fund. Under the methodologies, prescribed burns are conducted early in the dry season, lowering the intensity and extent of late dry season fires, and reducing total biomass burnt. This reduces corresponding GHG emissions by around 25 per cent, with some project experience showing even greater reductions are possible. The methodologies build upon work already undertaken by traditional owners in Australia in the groundbreaking West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) Project and Fish River projects. A further methodology accounting for the enhanced bio-sequestration resulting from fire management is under development. While the knowledge that informed the development of methodologies, other landholders, such as pastoral stations, are equally able to apply the methodologies, generating biodiversity and land benefits for the Australian community.

    The conditions required to establish savanna fire management projects are unlikely to be unique to Australia. Savannas cover around one-sixth of the global land surface and similar landscapes and traditional management practices exist in parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The challenge remains for the other communities in fire dependent landscapes around the world to fully realise the potential that the Australian experience demonstrates is possible.