Coastal blue carbon ecosystems can play a vital role in climate adaptation and mitigation and have a range of other co-benefits such as sustainable livelihoods and food security.
The International Partnership for Blue Carbon was formed by Australia at COP21 to amplify efforts to protect and restore blue carbon ecosystems (www.bluecarbonpartnership.org).
Australia will host, together with Wetlands International, a technical side-event at COP22 on 12 November (13.15 -14.45 in the Blue Zone: Observer Room 8/Arabian room) looking at ways to incorporate blue carbon into Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.
Australia along with the UAE will together host a high-level event where current partners of the International Partnership for Blue Carbon along with invited prospective partners will highlight their achievements since the launch of the partnership and goals for the coming 12 months.
To mark the first anniversary of the formation of the International Partnership for Blue Carbon, Australia will host, with Wetlands International, a blue carbon side-event at COP22. The event will look at ways to incorporate blue carbon into Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement – a key step towards countries’ potentially unlocking climate finance for blue carbon work. The partnership was set up to increase understanding of and accelerate action on the role of blue carbon ecosystems in action on climate change, including both adaptation and mitigation.
What are coastal blue carbon ecosystems and why are they important?
Coastal blue carbon ecosystems – mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses meadows –play a vital role in climate adaptation and mitigation and have a range of other benefits such as sustainable livelihoods, food security and biodiversity conservation.
In terms of mitigation, they sequester and store large amounts of carbon from our atmosphere and oceans. It is estimated that each year these ecosystems sequester the equivalent emissions of over a billion barrels of oil.12 And they sequester this carbon at significantly higher rates, per unit area, than forests.
These ecosystems can also play an important role in adaptation. They are a continuous sink –more layers of soils accumulate as plants die and are buried in the soil and new plants grow on top. As long as these ecosystems are not stressed by other human interventions, this upward growth can outpace moderate sea level rise3. And unlike other climate solutions, these ecosystems protect coastlines from climate change impacts by absorbing incoming wave energy and providing storm surge protection, often at lower costs than hard infrastructure like seawalls and levees.
Coastal blue carbon ecosystems also come with a suite of other sustainable livelihood, food security and biodiversity benefits as they provide spawning grounds for commercial fish and endangered marine species, regulate coastal water quality and support local livelihoods from tourism.
Despite their importance, these ecosystems are some of the most threatened on Earth. When degraded or lost, these ecosystems can become significant sources of greenhouse gases – their ongoing losses account for as much as 10 per cent of emissions from global deforestation4. Yet avoiding these losses can be a low-cost climate solution.
What are the hurdles to scaling protection and restoration efforts?
In recent years there has been significant blue carbon scientific work carried out by a range of institutions, organisations and countries. But there is still a gap between blue carbon science and policy. The challenge is how can we harness the science, help get national and regional policy settings right, and unlock the finance. This requires a multi-sectoral response. And this why Australia formed the International Partnership for Blue Carbon bringing together partners from government, international, regional and non-government organisations, and the academic sector.
Through 2015 Sustainable Development Goals we are able better link ocean and climate change policy and its impacts on sea life, marine blue carbon ecosystems and surrounding communities. The partnership and supporting members/forums further investigating how they can better support and implement change through the upscaling of current efforts and highlighting the need for change.
What is the Partnership and what is it aiming to achieve?
The Partnership was established by Australia at COP21 in December 2015 to amplify efforts to protect and restore blue carbon ecosystems.
The founding members of the Partnership were Australia, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Conservation International, IUCN, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, GRID-Arendal, Centre for International Forestry Research, and University of Queensland Global Change Institute. At the Our Ocean Conference in Washington in September, the United States and France both announced that they will join the Partnership.
Partnership members have identified three key pillars of work:
> building awareness of the importance of coastal blue carbon ecosystems: Partnership members are hosting a high-level event on blue carbon at COP22; working to include language recognising the importance of coastal blue carbon ecosystems in this year’s United Nations General Assembly resolution on the Oceans and Law of the Sea; and have introduced discussions on coastal blue carbon into a range of fora to highlight the issue and encourage collaboration.
> exchanging knowledge: a COP22 side event will look at ways to incorporate blue carbon into Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement; Partnership members are exploring national and regional activities to bridge the science-policy gap.
> accelerating practical action: Partnership members are looking at ways the Partnership might be able to help facilitate project development and help identify sources of finance.
Where can people find out more about coastal blue carbon ecosystems and the Partnership?
The Partnership has launched a website www.bluecarbonpartnership.org to share resources and knowledge, events and updates.
We also encourage people to come along the COP22 side event we are hosting on 12 November from 1315 -1445hrs in the Blue Zone (Observer Room 8/Arabian room – accreditation required). A number of Partners will be at the side event and would welcome the opportunity to discuss the work of the Partnership.
1Mcleod, Elizabeth, et al. “A blueprint for blue carbon: toward an improved understanding of the role of vegetated coastal habitats in sequestering CO2.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9.10 (2011): 552-560.
2US Environmental Protection Agency. Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. Last updated on September 15, 2016. Accessed on October 14, 2016 https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator
3Mudd, S.M., Howell, S.M., Morris, J.T. (2009) Impact of dynamic feedbacks between sedimentation, sea-level rise, and biomass production on near-surface marsh stratigraphy and carbon accumulation. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 82, 377-389.
4Donato et al, Nature Geoscience 2011