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Fires in early dry season consume less fuel, are smaller and less intense, managing new burning regimes offers real economic opportunities for Aboriginal communities

Posted by gmarkets on 22 September, 2007

Improving fire management in the region would be cheaper per unit of carbon dioxide than many carbon capture and storage schemes proposed for the energy sector reported The Canberra Times (22/8/2007, p. 6) Call for the Federal Government to invest $233 million to reduce impacts of climate change: CSIRO ecologist Dr Dick Williams said, “You are looking at a greenhouse abatement cost of $10 per tonne as opposed to costs in the order of $50 per tonne for carbon capture and storage.” Northern rivers ecologist Stuart Blanch has called for the Federal Government to invest $233 million in a 10-year program to build northern Australia’s resilience to the environ­mental and economic impacts of climate change.

Northern Australia should consider fire and carbon management as a long-term income source for Aboriginal communities: Dr Blanch, a scientist with the World Wildlife Fund Australia, urged the Fede­ral Government’s northern Australia taskforce, chaired by Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, to rule out plans for major irrigation developments. It was “irres­ponsible to push people north for farm­ing” when climate change would reduce the productivity of northern soils, he said. “Rather than operating as a farm-focused task force, Senator Heffernan’s group should look at creating regional wealth and jobs that won’t involve the wide-scale environmental destruction of southern-style irrigated farming. It should be considering fire and carbon management as a long-term income source for Aboriginal communities.”

Savanna fires in Northern Australia contribute about 3 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse emissions: Fires in northern Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory contribute about 3 per cent of Australia’s annual 565 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions, releasing 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – more than the annual amount (70 million tonnes) emit­ted by all transport in Australia. Northern Australia is one of the world’s most fire-prone areas, with the total land area burnt each year estimated to be around 13 per cent of the continent.

Fires in the early dry season (June) consume less fuel with lower greenhouse emissions: “Under the current Australian Greenhouse Office accounting procedures for the national inventory of greenhouse gases, savanna fires are assumed to be carbon neutral. It’s assumed carbon lost in the dry season fires is balanced by carbon uptake in the following wet season. That’s not necessarily the case,” Dr Williams said. New research by CSIRO and the Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre shows fires occurring in the late dry season (September) burn more fiercely and spread over a bigger area, resulting in high greenhouse gas emissions. Fires in the early dry season (June) consume less fuel and are smaller and less intense, with lower greenhouse emissions.

Strategic fire management offers real economic opportunities for Aboriginal communities: “The carbon sequestration of the savannas can be increased if fire fre­quency is decreased. But if the savannas are repeatedly burned by late dry season fires, they become a net source of carbon.” Managing new prescribed burning regimes to reduce greenhouse gases offered real economic opportunities for Aboriginal communities, Dr Williams said. Land councils were already involved in strategic fire management across western Arnhem Land.

The Canberra Times, 22/8/2007, p. 6

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