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The Indigenous Carbon Industry

The Indigenous carbon industry is a major emerging industry which has recently rapidly expanded from the successful West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project launched in 2006 to over 35 Indigenous-owned savanna fire projects across the Top End of the Northern Territory, the Kimberley and Far North Queensland. 

The Indigenous carbon industry is an important vehicle for Indigenous people seeking to work on their traditional lands. This provides a pathway to more job opportunities and training whilst maintaining important connections to family, community and country. The industry generates revenue for Indigenous ranger groups and land owners across northern Australia. 

Indigenous carbon projects generate multiple benefits to local communities, the environment and the entire planet.

This fire management program has been successful on so many levels: culturally, economically and environmentally. Through reinstating traditional burning practices, new generations of landowners have been trained in traditional and western fire management, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas have been abated, and the landscape is being managed in the right way. - Dean Yibarbuk, Fire ecologist and Senior Traditional Owner, West Arnhem Land

Through the savanna fire projects, Indigenous ranger groups work with Traditional Owners and scientists to meticulously plan, map out and record their work to create detailed fire maps of their country. This process: 

  • Brings Traditional Owners back to their country; 
  • Supports the handing down of traditional knowledge from elders to future generations; 
  • Facilitates other land management activities; 
  • Supports Traditional Owners to fulfil cultural obligations to look after country; 
  • Builds on both traditional and western knowledge of country through opportunities for exchange of cultural and scientific information; and 
  • Provides meaningful employment and training opportunities in very remote areas, where jobs are often scarce.  

The flow-on social benefits brought by the projects are still being understood but these include, greater self-determination of remote communities, improved community cohesiveness and independent resourcing of outstations and communities. In a 2021 survey, ICIN member organisations reported an increase in their capacity because of their engagement in the carbon industry.

How does savanna fire management save greenhouse gas emissions?

There are also significant environmental benefits brought by these savanna fire projects. Through shifting the fire regime from predominantly late dry season fires to predominantly early dry season fires, savanna fire projects increase biodiversity, improve soil health and cause a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from savanna fires.

Fire is a tool and it’s something people should see as part of the Australian landscape. By using fire at the right time of year, in the right places with the right people, we have a good chance to help country and climate. Importantly, people need to listen to science - the success of our industry has been from a collaboration between our traditional knowledge and modern science and this cooperation has made our work the most innovative and successful in the world. - Mr Rioli, Senior Mentor & Ranger Tiwi Land Council