Managing Wetlands for Climate Change Mitigation: Towards a greenhouse gas offset protocol for tidal wetlands

12 October 2010 | News story

Coastal and marine ecosystems constitute an important, but often overlooked ally in the battle against climate change. Tidal salt marshes for instance make up 1-2% of the overall carbon sink in the USA, but coastal wetlands have often been drained, filled and converted to other uses, such as agriculture.

This makes them emit large amounts of the carbon dioxide stored in sediment. Such emissions and loss of sequestration capacity do not receive much consideration. However, better accounting of carbon dioxide stored in and emitted from wetlands can help turn sustainable wetlands management into a mitigation strategy.

On 30 August 2010 the organization Restore America’s Estuaries released an action plan for the development of a greenhouse gas offset protocol for tidal wetlands restoration and management. Developed through a National Blue Ribbon Panel composed of experts in wetlands management, carbon sequestration, Greenhouse Gases (GHG) accounting and GHG offsets protocols and markets, the action plan seeks to integrate wetland management and restoration into commercial carbon offset planning.
IUCN seeks to assess opportunities for and promote international application of approaches and lessons learned from implementation of the Action Plan. A report identifying new opportunities to regulate climate change through restoration and management of coastal wetlands and marine ecosystems, prepared with the chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel, Dr Steve Crooks, and supported by the World Bank, will be released in the last quarter 2010.

Four working groups will address critical issues, including development of criteria for eligible projects and activities, ensuring the reliability of the projects to avoid project interruptions that could lead to releases of carbon stored in a wetland, and conducting research and analysis related to the quantification of carbon storage and GHG flux from tidal wetlands.

“We intend to answer the remaining questions surrounding the creation of an offset protocol, quantify sequestration rates across a variety of different coastal tidal wetland ecosystems, and make those findings available to investors in national and international carbon trading markets. This is truly historic” said Dr. Stephen Crooks, Blue Ribbon Panel chair.

Case studies identified by the Blue Ribbon Panel are the San Joaquin Delta freshwater tidal marsh and the Mississippi as a Large Deltaic System, as well as a coastal salt marsh to be determined. The action plan will lead to a protocol that could also be exported worldwide.

This represents a major advance in quantifying GHG sequestration in and emissions from tidal wetlands, and will enable managing and restoring them as a mitigation strategy, while using carbon markets to finance such management. Because healthy wetlands are host to valuable biodiversity, support productivity and provide other valuable services such as shoreline protection, this will benefit the communities relying on wetlands for livelihoods.

IUCN seeks to assess opportunities for and promote international application of approaches and lessons learned from implementation of the Action Plan. A report identifying new opportunities to regulate climate change through restoration and management of coastal wetlands and marine ecosystems, prepared with the chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel, Dr Steve Crooks, and supported by the World Bank, will be released in the last quarter 2010.

For more information contact:

Dr Stephen Crooks: Director, Climate Change Services, PWA, Philip Williams & Associates | Environmental Hydrology s.crooks@pwa-ltd.com

Jerker Tamelander, Manager - Oceans and Climate Change, IUCN: jerker.tamelander@iucn.org