Draft method for quantifying carbon gains from fire management

Fire control has long been seen as an integral element of effective dryland forest management. Regular hot fires damage the forests and reduce the total carbon stored within them, thus contributing to global warming. Hitherto, however, there has been no way to get credit from international carbon markets by reducing unwanted carbon emissions which result from forest fires. As part of our pilot REDD project, MCDI have developed a method to quantify the carbon savings achieved by implementing effective fire controls.

The method has been designed by us to meet the best known and toughest international carbon market requirements, as defined by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). We submitted it to VCS in February 2014, and it has now commenced the rigorous double approval process that is necessary for a new methodology to be validated for project implementation. This week the method was presented at a webinar organised by VCS and is now open to public comment until 24th April 2014. You can download the method draft and submit comments here.

Should our method be approved, it will not only be a significant achievement for our REDD project but will open up new opportunities for forest managers and rural communities living in Miombo woodlands, which cover some 2.8 million square kilometres across southern Africa. It will enable them to generate benefits from effective fire management via previously inaccessible carbon markets thus providing incentives to manage forest fires in a responsible way. Beyond this, the method could be easily adapted to suit dryland forests elsewhere in Africa and across the world.

Fire plays a central role in shaping dryland forests: after clearance by humans it is probably the most significant force at work. Some tree species require fire for their seeds to germinate. However, the rise of mankind has led to a dramatic increase in the frequency of forest fires. Where MCDI works in south-eastern Tanzania these are annual occurrences, with an estimated two-thirds of the forest burning each year. Most such fires occur late in the dry season when the grass that fuels them (the fuel load) is very dry and steady breezes fan the flames across vast areas. This causes significant forest degradation through two key effects: large trees die more often and regeneration is suppressed.

Although there are a number of different techniques which can be used to manage late dry season fires, the risks are almost impossible to control across large areas. Thus, the best solution is to remove the fuel load by burning the grass early on in the dry season. This is called Early Burning. The resulting fires are much less damaging to the forest and reduce the amount of flammable vegetation, thus preventing the passage of more destructive later fires.

Early Burning is an expensive, labour intensive undertaking. Therefore, while it makes sense in plantations (where businesses have significant investments at stake) and around people's houses and farms, it would not be implemented across the large areas of natural forest that extend across south-eastern Tanzania without specific compensation. Now, however, with this proposed method, there is hope that proper fire management can be adequately rewarded in future, with benefits for the global climate and for local people living in and around dryland forests across the world.


Early burning trials conducted by MCDI in Likawage village in 2013