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Lessons from Australia? Engaging indigenous peoples in carbon markets

By Elizabeth Buchan - posted Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Carbon markets have long been a tool to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. But globally, they remain fragmented, spanning mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations' REDD+ program and voluntary markets.

Currently, Australia has a stake in all of them.

At the latest round of UN climate talks in Doha this week, all of the markets that fall under the UNFCCC process are up for negotiation. Australia's commitment to the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol means its access to the market mechanisms of Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation will continue. With much of Australia's emissions reductions efforts concentrated in domestic and international carbon markets, this is welcome news.


But while Australia's large land sector presents a significant opportunity to reduce emissions,

the government has not yet included agriculture or the land sector in its domestic carbon price mechanism. That said, its Carbon Farming Initiative does present a voluntary opportunity for land uses to generate carbon credits.

One particularly successful project has been the savannah burning methodology used across the Northern Territory. In these projects, indigenous landowners conduct early dry season burns in areas of savannah. This prevents larger and more severe fires later in the season, stopping the emission of a considerable amount of carbon dioxide. The difference counts as the emission reduction.

The savannah model has been praised by the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance for its ability to achieve improved livelihoods for indigenous people on their country as well as positive outcomes for conservation and sustainable development. These include promoting indigenous burning practices, employment of indigenous rangers, providing employment pathways for indigenous youth.

The success of the project demonstrates its utility is not limited to Australia and there may be opportunities to conduct similar projects in countries with areas of savannah such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

Australia's geography is unique among the developed world. We have large areas of savannah and a supporting domestic carbon price. There is also scientific resources to administer savannah burning with measureable emissions reductions. Most other regions in the world with similarly large areas of savannah are developing countries.


Nevertheless, in these instances the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under Kyoto creates a framework for developed countries to offset emissions by funding clean development projects in developing countries. To date, it has driven the development of more than 4500 projects in 76 developing countries.

However its implementation has faced significant challenges.

There have been serious questions over the 'additionally' of projects; that is whether they would have occurred regardless of the CDM's presence. The CDM has also been criticised for violating the human rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. The global Climate Action Network has highlighted the failure of the CDM process to properly consult indigenous communities, a legal requirement under the CDM process where there is no avenue for recourse. Despite previous UN climate change negotiations on this issue, the current talks have failed to secure its future.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Buchan is a member of the Global Voices UNFCCC Australian Youth Delegation and a student at The Australian National University.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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