Coastal ecosystems such as tidal salt marshes, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests, are “blue carbon ecosystems” because they act as carbon sinks. Blue ecosystems have the ability to sequester copious amounts of carbon. However, if they are destroyed, they increase GHG emissions. Scientists estimate approximately 1.02 billion tons of carbon dioxide is emitted per year by degraded coastal ecosystems. In addition, these ecosystems support coastal water quality, fisheries, provide recreational activities, support the tourism economy, and protect against extreme weather events.
Under the Paris Agreement countries must submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and National Determined Contributions (NDCs). In these, parties include information on the scope and impact of their mitigation and adaptation programs. Blue carbon ecosystems are included in 28 countries’ NDCs for mitigation and in 59 countries’ adaptation strategies. While these numbers are growing, there is enormous potential benefit to incorporating blue ecosystems into NDCs. The blue carbon ecosystems are a significant part of countries’ NDCs as they act as a carbon sink, contribute to coastline protection, and food security. If coastal wetlands loss was halted by 50%, the equivalent would offset the emissions of Spain.
There are two main ways to address effective management of blue ecosystems to achieve this goal. The first is avoiding coastal wetland conversion by creating protected areas. Countries can also restore coastal wetlands. In order to facilitate these activities, multiple blue carbon institutions have been founded. The Blue Carbon Initiative works to restore and promote sustainable use of coastal and marine blue ecosystems by partnering governments, research institutions, NGOs, and local communities. The International Partnership for Blue Carbon works at building awareness, exchanging knowledge, and accelerating practical action. In addition the Nature Conservancy’s Blue Carbon program is also invested in this issue. The Nature Conservancy has been building a scientific foundation for conservation, identifying demonstration sites where wetlands can be conserved, and leveraging policy and financial mechanisms to ensure action.
Overall, blue carbon presents an area of great potential impacts upon GHG emissions. While the UNFCCC does not yet recognize “blue carbon,” it has been increasingly used in countries’ mitigation and adaptation strategies. With increased action being taken by international organizations, it is likely that blue carbon will play a significant role in lowering carbon emissions in the future.