Blue Carbon Initiative: Buried Treasure For Climate and Coastal Communities
A mangrove plantation in Bali. Photo source: ©© Lawrence Hislop /Unep
Excerpts; from UNEP, The World’s Bank and Conservation International
There is overwhelming consensus amongst climate scientists that the Earth’s warming in recent decades has been caused primarily by human activities that have increased the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that nearly 50 per cent of the emissions causing global warming in the twenty-first century are from non-CO2 pollutants ranging from black carbon entering the atmosphere from the inefficient burning of biomass and dung for cooking and from diesel engines, coal-fired power stations, low-level ozone, methane and nitrogen compounds.(unep). According to researchers, black carbon’s likely near-term climate change contribution ranges from 20 to 50 per cent of the CO2 warming effects. Especially damaging are the black carbon emissions that end up on snow and ice, as consequently these surfaces absorb more of the sun’s heat. UNEP’s focus in this area has been on the Arctic and Himalayan Tibetan Plateau.
According to a 2009 report, Mitigating climate change through restoration and management of coastal wetlands and near-shore marine ecosystems, to mitigate the most serious impacts of climate change a range of different strategies to lower carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere are required.
Instead of relying on costly technologies such as carbon capture and storage, boosting investments in the conservation, rehabilitation and management of the vast stores of carbon held by the world’s ecosystems like forests and oceans, can deliver significant cuts in carbon emissions and avoid even more being released to the atmosphere.
Such activities have the added benefit of preserving the huge range of services and goods these ecosystems provide to local people and the wider community, the report concluded.
The concept of Blue Carbon, which refers to the important role that some coastal habitats play in naturally storing greenhouse gasses, thereby helping to mitigate climate change, was introduced by UNEP in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Education and Science Organization (UNESCO).
Mr Archim Stenier, the UNEP Executive Director, said that the blue carbon was a mix of the colour blue signifying oceans and the cutting on carbon emissions and how we should cope with the issue in the foreseeable future. We will have to rely more and more on carbon capture and sequestration in our eco systems done by nature. We humans should turn nature’s natural systems into assets. What is underestimated is the power of the worlds oceans to store more carbon in marine ecosystems rather than terrestrial ones.” An added, “We already know that marine and coastal ecosystems are multi-trillion dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, shipping and fisheries – now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change.” Press Release, Unep
Dubbed “blue carbon” for their ability to sequester and store huge amounts of carbon, coastal marine ecosystems are believed to be able to complement the role of forests (Green Carbon) in taking up carbon emissions through sequestration, if valued and managed properly.
Carbon sinks along the world’s coastlines, including mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes store massive quantities of carbon both in the plants and in the sediment immediately beneath them. Carbon is buried in the sediment at rates up to 50 times higher than those observed on land, and these rates can be maintained for centuries or more. (Conservation International)
According to scientists at the first 2011 International Working Group on Coastal “Blue” Carbon event, total carbon deposits per square kilometer in these coastal systems can be up to five times the carbon stored in tropical forests, resulting from their ability to sequester carbon at rates up to 50 times those of tropical forests, and this could provide an immediate and cost-effective tool to counter the impacts of climate change.”
“What we’ve seen is that that these three main systems, mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes, are phenomenally efficient at storing carbon below ground in the sediment for centuries at a time,” said Dr. Emily Pidgeon, the Marine Climate Change Program Director for Conservation International. “So it seems natural to us that oceans should be part of the climate change solution. It’s been a bit puzzling to me as to why they haven’t so far.”
According to scientific analysis, coastal systems globally are being lost at an alarming rate, with approximately two percent removed or degraded each year, which is four times the estimates of annual tropical forest loss.
“The loss of mangroves is like a one-two punch to our planet: first, it results in the rapid emission of carbon stores that in many cases have built up over centuries and the lost opportunity of future carbon sequestration from these areas, and second, it destroys habitats that are critical for fisheries around the world,” said Pidgeon.” (IC)
“Scientific studies have shown that although mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes account for less than 1 percent of the total plant biomass on land and forests, they cycle almost the same amount of carbon as the remaining 99 percent. So the decline of these carbon-efficient ecosystems is a valid cause of concern.”
The removal of large areas of mangroves for industrial purposes can significantly alter these precious coastal ecosystems. This can have a broader effect on the community, threatening vital clean water sources, tourist industries and the food supplies on which we rely. In addition to this, the root system of a mangrove forest serves to stabilize the coastline, providing protection from storm surges. Being a small archipelago made up of 17,000 islands, Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels or intense tropical storms linked to Global Warming. ©© Lawrence Hislop /Unep
“From 1940 over 30% of Mangroves and 30% of Sea grass meadows and 20% of salt marshes have been lost in the name of development. Along with that 50% of the worlds wetlands have been lost while we humans ramp up carbon emissions. Now we have to link different ways to mitigate and adapt to focus on an urgent answer to get rid of this excess carbon both by blue and Green carbon efforts. Mr Steiner said this joint Blue Carbon Initiative will draw the world’s attention to the role of oceans in this fight.” (Unep)
“We appeal to all countries to preserve these abilities of coastal and marine ecosystems as important variables in global climate change dynamic”, said Dr. Fadel and Mr. Steiner.(unep)
On his first meeting in Paris, last march, the International Working Group on Coastal “Blue” Carbon, brought a set of key priorities and recommendations: link. The group of scientists will continue the collaborative scientific study in August.
Young mangrove plantation on coastal Bali. An important function of mangrove forest is to hold back silt water that damages coral reefs. In extreme weather conditions, mangroves provide a physical barrier, absorbing and dissipating the energy from tsunami, flood or storm winds. ©© Lawrence Hislop