First Nations people key to blue carbon projects: study

Keira Jenkins |

Sarah Parriman says Indigenous people are locked out of the carbon market in coastal ecosystems.
Sarah Parriman says Indigenous people are locked out of the carbon market in coastal ecosystems.

First Nations people have been caring for sea country for millennia, and hold the key for Australia’s “blue carbon” market to realise its full potential, a study has found.

Research from the country’s peak Indigenous carbon organisation found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people hold rights over 66 per cent of Australia’s coastline, but are being locked out of schemes to own and sell carbon in coastal ecosystems. 

The Indigenous Carbon Industry Network director Sarah Parriman said the only currently available method for blue carbon requires reintroduction of tidal flows into coastal wetlands. 

“You need to have some form of decline in the ecosystem to be able to have a project under that method,” she said.

“A lot of the area of the country (where Indigenous people hold rights) the coastline doesn’t have those kinds of decline in the ecosystem because people are caring for country in the same ways they have for a very long time.” 

The report from the Indigenous Carbon Industry Network recommends where the crown has rights to carbon, it should instead go to traditional owners, with the exception of private or Indigenous-owned lands. 

Giving the example of the savanna fire management practice, where controlled burning practices in northern Australia earn carbon credits, Ms Parriman said Indigenous cultural knowledge needed to be at the forefront of developing new carbon methods. 

“The savanna fire management method is an example (on land) where Aboriginal people played a significant role in the development and testing,” she said.

“Those types of activities where Aboriginal people have had their culture and their knowledge at the forefront in the development of those projects, that’s the key to success.”

Sunset in Cable Beach in Broome, Western Australia.
Indigenous people want in on the “blue carbon” market along Australia’s coastline. (Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS)

To recognise the ongoing connection First Nations people have with sea country, the report also recommends the carbon industry position Indigenous people as blue carbon project owners, or equal joint partners in any new carbon projects. 

Ms Parriman said if Indigenous people and their knowledge was not placed at the forefront of carbon projects, Australia risked falling behind global best practice. 

“We have been caring for both land and sea country for millennia, and when country is thriving, Aboriginal people in communities are thriving as well,” she said.

“Let’s look at what we know and how we care for country and use all of that knowledge to develop methods that allow us to proactively participate and see those outcomes.”

The report was released as part of the National Environmental Science Program, Indigenous Engagement and Blue Carbon project led by Charles Darwin University, in collaboration with North Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance  and Indigenous Carbon Industry Network.