30 July 2020
Mangroves: A Unique Ally in the Climate Emergency
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Several countries recognized the value of mangroves-based mitigation actions in their REDD+ strategies, while at least 45 countries specifically mentioned mangroves in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

During the week of the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, it is key to remember the importance of protecting, sustainably managing and restoring this key ecosystem.

Nearly 20 years have passed since the first time I stepped into a mangrove forest, yet the memory is still among my fondest memories. I was already captivated by mangrove ecology through my studies; but it was only when my boots first disappeared under the mud that I was truly hooked. I arrived at Ko Phra Thong in Thailand to take part in a survey of the mangroves on the island and I was so keen to get started that I didn’t even stop to change from shorts to long trousers, or to slap on some mosquito repellent. Well, they had a feast on my legs, leaving some very physical, itchy reminders of the experience, to add to the romantic charm of the soft green dappled light and salty breeze.

Mangrove forests are unique ecosystems, straddling the boundary between ocean and land. Their significant roles in securing a habitat for a wide range of unique species of fish, insects, mollusks and plants, and in providing direct and indirect livelihood benefits for coastal communities are all well studied. The COVID-19 outbreak and the related impacts on countries and communities put increasing visibility and recognition of the importance of the availability and sustainability of such food security and livelihoods benefits.

More recently, attention has turned to the importance of mangroves as sinks of greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and methane – and hence their critical role in mitigating climate change. Moreover, intact and healthy mangroves act as a natural buffer, contributing to the reduction of impact forces and depth and velocity of natural hazards, thus contributing to coastal communities’ ability to adapt as the frequency and severity of such events increases as a result of climate change.

The prominence of mangroves in international dialogues and national efforts on ‘nature-based solutions’ is therefore becoming more evident, as we set out to harness the unique qualities of mangroves towards both the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.

Foremost among these efforts is the inclusion of mangroves in national REDD+ strategies, through which developing countries aim to incorporate the forest sector into their policies and approaches to tackling climate change, as part of their commitments under the Paris Agreement. Preparation of national REDD+ strategies involves the identification of specific policies and actions to address, and where possible to reverse, the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and to increase forest cover. In so doing, several countries, including Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, India, Indonesia and Myanmar, recognized the value of mangroves-based mitigation actions. Furthermore, at least 45 countries around the world specifically mentioned mangroves in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards fulfilling the global goals of the Paris Agreement.

When countries introduce practical, cost-effective and achievable policies and actions for the management and protection of forests, while providing sustainable development opportunities for local forest communities, the rate of forest loss can be reduced, as well as the net emissions of greenhouse gases from forest areas.

Countries that achieve emission reductions from deforestation and fulfill UNFCCC REDD+ Warsaw framework are eligible for results-based payments, for example through the Green Climate Fund RBP pilot programme, bilateral agreements with donors, or other mechanisms. In this regard, reduction of mangroves deforestation, as a high carbon-rich ecosystem, can be a strategic ally to achieve results of magnitude.  

FAO, also through and with the flagship UN-REDD Programme (a collaborative effort between FAO, UNDP and UNEP), is working with countries to integrate mangroves into their REDD+ strategies and implement specific actions. Entry points include changes to practices in communities involved in shrimp farming or charcoal production, and support to governments in defining comprehensive packages of policies and measures for mangrove ecosystems and the communities that depend on them for their livelihoods. While planning their REDD+ activities, countries may want to carry out assessments and develop studies on the impacts and benefits of mangroves on the wider landscape and rural economy, so that the results could be presented to relevant line ministries, development partners and initiatives. They may also request support in developing specific emission factors and allometric equations for mangroves, and share these with other countries. This will allow for much more accurate estimations of the potential and actual contribution of mangrove-based actions, policies and measures to REDD+ strategy objectives.

Despite all the recognition mentioned so far, mangroves continue to be subject to pressures such as expansion of commercial agriculture and aquaculture. Their depletion is a cause of serious environmental and economic concern to many developing countries.

During the week of the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, it is key to remember the importance of protecting, sustainably managing and restoring this key ecosystem, and the opportunities this represent for countries and local communities, as a key ally for food security, sustainable livelihood, and in the fight against climate change.

Keeping the world’s mangroves healthy will require a combination of integrated coastal management, inter-sectoral coordinated rural development policy, and the sharing of technical expertise and effective practices within and between countries. These efforts will be in vain unless they are combined with approaches to improve the livelihoods and capacities of the people whose actions most directly affect mangroves, such as rural farming and fishing communities.

The inclusion of mangroves management, conservation and restoration in REDD+ strategies and in NDCs represent opportunities to boost moving towards healthy and sustainable ecosystems. In addition, the upcoming UN Decade on ecosystem restoration represents another important vector for actions on the ground. Countries demonstrated interest in mangrove restoration, with approximate thirty countries mentioning mangroves in their restoration pledges as part of the Bonn Challenge.

This article was written by Serena Fortuna, forestry officer, REDD+ team, FAO, with acknowledgment for kind collaboration from Ben Vickers, programme officer REDD+/NFM Cluster and Maryia Kukharava, outreach (and knowledge management) expert, REDD+/NFM Cluster. 

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