Carbon economy for northern Australia

Australia's tropical savannas cover two million square kilometres and are largely uncleared. They account for about a third of Australia's land-based carbon stores and have the potential to store even more.

Burning savanna - aerial viewThis raises the possibility that the savannas of northern Australia could play an important role in the emerging carbon economy.

"We can see the potential for the savannas to be involved - both the landscapes and the people," said Dr Dick Williams, an ecologist with CSIRO, the Tropical Savannas CRC and the Bushfire CRC. "But for it to be realised we will need a better scientific understanding of how carbon is stored and measured, and changes will be required to the current rules in carbon accounting."

Dr Williams said savannas could store up to one tonne of additional carbon per hectare per year.

"However, we don't know how long savannas can keep storing extra carbon. The storage potential also depends on land management practices such as grazing, land clearing and fire. For example, with more than 30 million hectares of bush burnt annually in the north, fire in the north is a significant national issue when talking about carbon accounting."

Key researchers from three of Australia's Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) will be meeting at CSIRO in Darwin this week to identify research gaps in carbon accounting in the north. The three CRCs are the Tropical Savannas CRC, the Greenhouse Accounting CRC and the Bushfire CRC.

Charles Darwin University and Tropical Savannas CRC ecologist, Dr Lindsay Hutley, said that despite the potential for northern Australia to contribute to the nation's carbon economy, there were many uncertainties concerning the science and socioeconomics of accounting for carbon in the landscape.

"We need more information on how we measure carbon in the landscape, and on how government policies affect who will or won't benefit from any changes in land management," he said.

Greenhouse Accounting CRC researcher Mr John Carter, from the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy in Queensland, agrees.

"Scientists, policy makers and land managers need to understand the complex accounting rules. We also need ways of measuring carbon that are robust, reliable, accurate and cheap," he said.

Bushfire CRC CEO, Mr Kevin O'Loughlin, said the fact that the three CRC's were meeting jointly on this issue was indicative of the developing collaborations between the CRCs on this internationally important issue.

"The carbon workshop collaboration also provides a potential model for how Australian CRCs can, and will, work together on important environmental and economic issues in the future," Mr O'Loughlin said.

Further information:

Dr Dick Williams, CSIRO, Tropical Savannas CRC Tel: 08 8944 8426

Dr Lindsay Hutley, Tropical Savannas CRC, CDU Tel: 08 8946 7103 or 08 8944 8400

Mr John Carter, Greenhouse Accounting CRC, QNRM&E Tel: 07 3896 9588>

Mr Kevin O'Loughlin, Bushfire CRC Ph. 03 9412 9601

Dr Chris Mitchell, Greenhouse Accounting CRC Tel: 02 6125 4265

Media assistance:

Ms Barbara McKaige, Communication Officer

CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems Tel: 08 8944 8411

Release date

Tue, 24/02/2004