18 Dec 2023
The Power Of Blue Carbon In Climate Action
When Ignacia de la Rosa speaks people listen. Even when they don’t understand her. A leader of the San Antero community in the Cispatá region of Colombia, she has been working for several years on a ‘blue carbon’ project aimed at conserving and restoring coastal mangrove forests in Colombia’s Sinú River basin. “It gives us […]

When Ignacia de la Rosa speaks people listen. Even when they don’t understand her. A leader of the San Antero community in the Cispatá region of Colombia, she has been working for several years on a ‘blue carbon’ project aimed at conserving and restoring coastal mangrove forests in Colombia’s Sinú River basin.

“It gives us so much, from food to shelter. How can we allow it to be cut,” she said to a packed audience at COP28 where CNN’s documentary ‘Blue Carbon’ featuring Ignacia was played, earlier this month. Filmed in the USA, Senegal, Vietnam, France, Colombia and Brazil, the documentary explores the relatively newly-discovered potential of oceans to absorb much more carbon from the atmosphere than even tropical rainforests.  Told through the eyes of Grammy-nominated music producer, DJ and marine toxicologist, Jayda Guy, Blue Carbon is an environmental documentary that brings together music and science to uncover why listening to nature, and to each other, is key for averting climate catastrophe.

“The mangrove forest gives us so much. It shelters us from the winds, and provides food and resources. It’s like a protective mother.  My goal was to conserve it for the future. I think I had no choice but to protect it,” said Ignacia de la Rosa while sharing her work within her community. 

The session organised by Conservation International (CI), among others, got together the community leaders featured in the film. Dr. Emily Pidgeon, Vice President of Ocean Science and Innovation at CI, stressed on how the wisdom and knowledge of indigenous leaders have to be passed on as the fight against climate change continues. 

“I just knew they needed to be restored, so I planted the mangroves. I was aware that there are many benefits of mangroves for the community. I knew the changes that are happening around us in terms of climate change so got the community to work for it,” said Abdou Karim Sall from Senegal while highlighting the importance of blue carbon for his community.

What is Blue Carbon?

Simply put, blue carbon is the term for carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems. 

Coastal ecosystems like mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows provide protection from storms and rising sea levels, curb shoreline erosion, regulate coastal water quality, offer habitats for vital fisheries and endangered marine life, and ensure food security for coastal communities. Additionally, these environments capture and stock substantial amounts of coastal blue carbon, recognised for their role in mitigating climate change.

As per reported data, the total mangrove cover in the world is 15 million hectare which is 1% of the total tropical forests. In India, according to the latest assessment by the Forest Survey of India, the mangrove cover is 4975 km2 , which is 0.15% of the country’s total geographical area. Coastal systems not only store massive amounts of carbon and offer additional CO2 sequestration opportunities, but also deliver several adaptation and coastal protection benefits. 

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Despite their immense benefits, these coastal blue carbon ecosystems face severe threats, with an estimated reported loss of 340,000 to 980,000 hectares annually. Around 67% of mangroves, along with 35% and 29% of tidal marshes and seagrass meadows respectively, have already vanished globally. If these trends persist, experts believe that an additional 30% to 40% of tidal marshes and seagrasses, and almost all unprotected mangroves, could disappear within the next century. The degradation or loss of these ecosystems can transform them into substantial sources of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. And that’s where the need to maintain these ecosystems arises.

What are Blue Carbon Credits?

Enter Blue Carbon Credits. Just like carbon credits, blue carbon credits also work by offering incentives to businesses. These focus on sequestering or removing carbon from the air through renewable energy, reforestation, or preventing deforestation. But instead of focusing on the land, blue carbon credits focus more on the carbon in the ocean and coastal ecosystems.

Similar to carbon credits that target land-based vegetation capable of sequestering carbon, blue carbon initiatives aim to conserve vital marine vegetation or foster the growth of new flora. Their purpose is to enhance the absorption of carbon emissions within oceanic ecosystems, thereby mitigating the pace of climate change.

Just like the traditional carbon credits, individuals or businesses contribute funds to support a blue carbon credit programme also. It aids in offsetting a specific volume of the carbon emissions generated and these credits vary in scale. 

As reported by S&P Global, carbon credits derived from mangrove projects in Asia and Central America range from $13 to $35 per metric tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2). In comparison, standard carbon credits, as per Bloomberg, typically average around $7.53 per tonne. This highlights a significant price difference between the two, ranging from two to four-and-a-half times higher for mangrove carbon credits.

Just as they access carbon markets for terrestrial projects, it’s time organisations started employing blue-carbon, nature-based solutions to meet their net-zero targets. Stakeholders across the spectrum need to accelerate action towards blue carbon so as to tap nature’s biggest ally in the fight against climate change. 

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