‘Developing the North’ has been on the Australian Government’s agenda for many decades.

The formal 2015 policy, Our North, our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, applies a typical business-as-usual growth paradigm for escalating agriculture- and mining-based northern economies, while ignoring very significant challenges and opportunities including climate change, renewable energy and Indigenous economic development.

We address a range of alternatives, more realistic ecosystem services-based economic options which can deliver multi-fold benefits for regional communities, economies and the nation. We focus particularly on the potential for ecosystem-services enterprises (carbon farming, conservation management, nature-based tourism) in the north to develop a diversified land sector economy, currently dominated by an economically marginal, environmentally challenged pastoral sector.

Northern Australia, comprising 1.2million km2 area in the north (as defined by the Northern Australia Land and Water Task Force 2009), supports biodiversity rich but sparsely populated savannas. The region receives long-term mean rainfall of >600mm per annum, most of which occurs during the wet season from November to March, with little or no rainfall during the dry season from April until September/October. Throughout the dry season, extensive and wild bushfires are of common occurrence, resulting in ~3% contributions to the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

The Savanna Burning (SB) Methodology, implemented by the Australia Government in 2012 under the Emissions Reduction Fund (http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/ERF) to abate the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, affords economic opportunities for the landholders to earn carbon credit, on average worth >$10/tonne of abatement (Australian Government 2018). It requires implementing fine-scale fire management to minimize late dry season wildfires (Australian Government 2018). It is important to note that currently, the region abates about four million tonnes of GHG emissions, supporting an economy of ~$40M, while delivering many socio-cultural and biodiversity benefits to the local Indigenous communities and the wider Australian public.

References:

NALaWTF (Northern Australia Land and Water Task Force) (2009). Sustainable development of northern Australia. A report to Government from the Northern Australia Land and Water Task Force. December 2009. Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Australian Government: Canberra.

Australian Government (2018). Carbon auctions for the Emissions Reduction Fund. http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/ERF/Auctions-results, accessed on 1 March 2018.

This update was kindly provided by Kamaljit Kaur Sangha1,2 ([email protected]) and Jeremy Russell-Smith1,2 ([email protected]) of Charles Darwin University, who presented at the 2017 Australian Regional Development Conference.

1 Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research (DCBR), Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0810, Australia

2 Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, 340 Albert Street, East Melbourne, Victoria 3002, Australia

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