In Cancun, everyone’s talking about Blue Carbon

The term Blue Carbon seems to be gaining traction outside of the world of science and environmental economics. Or – at the very least – its gaining traction in Cancun.

Numerous groups have strategically launched new reports regarding the capture, conservation, and capitalization of carbon on our coasts. Just in time for the climate menagerie in Mexico: COP16.

World Bank, ICUN, the Nicholas Institute at Duke University, and a new Blue Climate Coalition are laying material on the table — and the web. You can access the new Blue Carbon policy brief from Duke and read about the Blue Climate Coalition here. The World Bank  and IUCN put our their own report on building mitigation and adaptation for carbon-rich coasts. If  you were able to read Dan Laffoly’s  (IUCN) eloquent New York Times Op-Ed last January, this report provides some great follow-up and  substance.

The World Bank, together with IUCN and ESA PWA, announces the release of a brief for decision-makers entitled, “Capturing and Conserving Natural Coastal Carbon – Building mitigation, advancing adaptation.” This information brief highlights the crucial importance of carbon sequestered in coastal wetlands and submerged vegetated habitats like seagrass beds for climate change mitigation.

Coastal wetlands, such as mangroves, tidal flats and salt marshes, along with seagrass beds sequester large amounts of carbon within their plants and especially in the soil. However, degradation of these habitats–as a result of drainage, conversion and reclamation–can result in substantial and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases.

However, these natural carbon sinks and the emissions resulting from their degradation and loss remain largely unaccounted for within the UNFCCC. Restoring degraded wetlands–in particular deltas which are subsiding as a result of natural geomorphology, human disturbance to the hydrological cycle, and sea level rise–can reverse the loss of these sinks and reverse the release of GHGs to the atmosphere. Protecting these natural carbon stores in the first place prevents the rapid loss of carbon that immediately follows disturbance, as well and preserving has substantial co-benefits for adaptation to climate change in terms of reducing the physical vulnerability of shorelines and increasing the social and economic resilience of coastal communities through positive impacts on livelihoods and food security.

Recognizing the role and value of coastal wetlands and seagrass beds under the Climate Convention will contribute to a global approach to natural carbon management.

The brief is based on the findings of a larger report by Crooks et al, which will be presented at a side event at the UNFCCC COP-16 in Cancun on Wednesday, December 1, 11:30—1:00pm, Cancun Messe, Jaguar. This side-event, organized by Conservation International and IUCN, is entitled ‘Blue Carbon: Valuing CO2 Mitigation by Coastal Marine Systems. Sequestration of Carbon Along Our Coasts: Are We Missing Major Sinks and Sources?’.

Whales Store Some Carbon, Oceans Store Loads of It

The is quite a bit of buzz today about recent research that quantifies how much whaling has – and is – contributing to atmospheric carbon. It appears that whales store significant amounts of carbon. I doubt, however, we will ever have a global breeding program to increase our whale populations, thereby offsetting our own carbon emissions. It’s just not feasible. (Besides, encouraging more people-whale interactions isn’t a popular idea at the moment.)

The focus needs to be broadened beyond whales. Ocean habitats are continually overlooked by the global community as viable sites of carbon sequestration. Blue carbon – as some call it – is a new concept being researched by the NGO community and receiving blog hits. The New York Times has even taken notice. Three months ago, Dan Laffoley of IUCN wrote a wonderful NYT op-ed entitled, To Save the Planet, Save the Seas. Read it.

In short, blue carbon emphasizes the key role of marine and coastal ecosystems. It places value on carbon-rich marine vegetation such as mangrove forests, seagrass, brackish marshes and salt marshes. Coastal and marine ecosystems are believed to be able to complement the role of forests  in taking up carbon emissions through sequestration.

See our related posts on this here, here and here.

This is a management area that was greatly overlooked in Copenhagen. It’s a concept to which the UN and coastal nations ought to give more attention. Island nations rich in blue carbon, like Indonesia, could benefit similarly to the way Brazil is predicted to benefit from “green carbon” sequestration programs, like REDD.

In my opinion, blue carbon sequestration programs will need new research, the right political advocates, and better governance. The question I pose to you marine scientists/environmental managers/policy makers: Where to start?