An obscure Pacific island is set to trial a world-first scheme where residents are offered cash incentives to follow a healthy, low-pollution lifestyle, researchers said.
Australia's isolated Norfolk Island, once a tough British prison colony, is an ideal test-bed for the novel project as the world grasps for solutions to the twin problems of global warming and obesity, they said.
The island's 2,000 residents will be given a "carbon credit card" to present when they pay for power, petrol and food. Frugal users can trade leftover credits for cash, while those who over-consume will have to buy extra units.
"We have an island that it is 1,700 kilometres off the (Australian) mainland, it is fully self-contained and you can measure everything that goes in and out," said lead researcher Garry Egger.
He said residents of self-governing Norfolk, east of Brisbane and north of New Zealand, lived a similar lifestyle to other Australians, who are the world's biggest per capita polluters and among its most obese.
Use of electricity and petrol would be penalised along with imports of processed foods from Australia, encouraging people to walk and cycle more, use less power and eat local produce, said Egger.
The voluntary scheme is funded by a grant from the Australian Research Council. Egger, from Southern Cross University (SCU) near Brisbane, said he was confident most residents would take part in the three-year study.
"If they're frugal and don't buy a lot of petrol or power or fatty foods, then they can actually have units to spare at the end of a set time period so that they can cash those in at the bank and make money from them," he said.
Those who weren't careful with their energy and diet would have to buy extra units. The island's 30,000 annual tourists would also receive a carbon card on arrival with the number of credits tailored to the length of their stay.
"They will be able to recover the money that is left on their cards if they are frugal with it, or they will have to pay extra if they go over," Egger said, in a statement released Wednesday.
"It's quite fun because they can actually make a bit of money while they are out there if they do the right thing."
Islanders had responded with enthusiasm, said Norfolk's tourism and development minister Andre Nobbs. The local government was a partner in the funding bid.
"The good thing that Norfolk Island has going for it is the population has strong ideals and beliefs about the environment," Nobbs said, adding it would be a "welcome experience" for visitors.
"Most tourists already know we are pretty genuine about our quality of life here," he said.
"To arrive and be given a card that is going to map their carbon usage while they are on holiday, I think will be seen as a very proactive step."
Egger said the number of credits would be reduced over time to meet lower emissions targets and more ambitious health goals, increasing the cost of "sustaining that lifestyle they are not prepared to forego."
One of the biggest questions to be tested was how receptive the public would be, he added. At the end of the three years his team would present its findings to the Australian government.
"If (Norfolk residents) are in favour of it then it would justify scaling it up to a country level and ultimately to a world level."
Two-thirds of Australian men and half of women are estimated to be overweight or obese, costing the economy at least 21 billion dollars (20.4 billion US) a year in healthcare alone, according to a Sydney University study.
Australia, named last year as the world's biggest per capita polluter by risk consultancy Maplecroft, is also grappling with ways to cut greenhouse gases after failing to get emissions trading laws through parliament.