03.05.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Recognizing the importance of coastal Blue Carbon systems to Mitigate Climate Change

© UNESCO-TVEMalindi-Watamu Biosphere Reserve (Kenya)

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable development (Rio+20) is an opportunity to set a new agenda for a sustainable future. As delegates met in New York for the second round of informal negotiations on the zero drat of the Rio+20 outcome document, a side event was organized by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International (CI) to address the Blue Carbon Policy Framework, discussing a number of innovative tools to protect and emphasize the importance of protecting marine and coastal ecosystems.

Some marine ecosystems, such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows, beyond having high biodiversity values and providing breeding grounds and nurseries for fisheries, can also play a key role in mitigating global climate change through their ability to store carbon. These Blue Carbon ecosystems are being degraded and destroyed at a rapid pace along the world’s coastlines, resulting in globally significant emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and ocean and contributing to climate change.

There is growing evidence and consensus that the management of coastal Blue Carbon ecosystems, through avoided emissions, conservation, restoration and sustainable use has strong potential as a transformational tool in effective global natural carbon management. Scientific understanding of carbon sequestration and potential emissions from coastal ecosystems is now sufficient to develop effective carbon management, policy, and conservation incentives for coastal Blue Carbon.

Ambassador Eduardo Ulibarri, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the UN, moderating the side event, highlighted raising awareness on the mitigating value of blue carbon, and urged including blue carbon in the climate change negotiations.

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General, IUCN, called for actions to conserve coastal ecosystems, lamenting their rapid destruction due to the lack of understanding of the impacts of humans. She underlined the role of salt marshes, mangroves and tidal marshes in carbon sequestration, noting their carbon capacity exceeds that of many other terrestrial habitats.

Emily Pidgeon, CI, explained the importance of marine and coastal ecosystems as both sinks and sources of carbon. She presented the Blue Carbon Initiative, which aims to increase conservation, restoration and sustainable management of coastal blue carbon ecosystems.

Speaking on the science of blue carbon, Miguel Cifuentes, CATIE, Costa Rica, warned of the significant amounts of carbon emissions released through the destruction of coastal habitats, land use conversions and upstream disruptions, saying that coastal ecosystems maintain 75% of all tropical commercial fish species through their role as nurseries.

David Gordon, Duke University, spoke on the economics of blue carbon, warning that the benefits are not easy to monetize. He said that to ensure the future of blue carbon economies, they need to be incorporated into existing voluntary markets and included in future mitigation activities.

Julian Barbiere, UNESCO-IOC, outlined the policy aspects of blue carbon and highlighted activities that have taken place under the Blue Carbon Initiative, including: awareness raising; consultations with stakeholders and policy makers; and developing a Blue Carbon Policy Framework.

During the discussions, participants deliberated on, inter alia: the co-benefits of disaster risk reduction connected to coastal ecosystem protection; coastal ecosystems’ carbon value; and the difficulty of establishing carbon inventories for coastal ecosystems.

With appropriate and timely action through the Rio+20 negotiating process, increased recognition of the importance of coastal Blue Carbon systems will leverage improved management and regulation of coastal areas and provide a basis for incentives, including financial mechanisms, to conserve or restore these systems and avoid and manage emissions as well as impacts, i.e. support mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

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