The first policy framework outlining activities needed to include coastal marine areas such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses into the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has been presented in a report by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and Conservation International (CI).
The report, Blue Carbon Policy Framework, outlines opportunities for including the conservation of coastal areas in the climate change policies and financing processes currently being negotiated in Durban. The study also highlights the need for the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the voluntary carbon market to take coastal marine ecosystems into account.
“The oceans and marine biodiversity are crucial in regulating the global climate”, says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “Oceans absorb 93.4% of the heat produced by climate change as well as one third of human-induced carbon dioxide. Coastal areas also have an exceptional capacity to store carbon. But currently natural solutions that the marine world offers to climate change challenges are rarely taken into account in international climate change policy.”
The UNFCCC and the mechanism known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, fostering conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks), support the conservation and restoration of terrestrial forests as a way to reduce the effects of climate change. But the importance of coastal carbon sinks, such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses, is not yet fully recognized by the Convention.
Although coastal ecosystems cover only one to two percent of the area covered by forests globally, improving their management can supplement efforts to reduce emissions from tropical forest degradation. A square kilometer of a coastal ecosystem can store up to five times more carbon than a square kilometer of mature tropical forests. But currently these areas are being destroyed three to four times faster than forests, releasing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the ocean, and contributing to climate change.
“We think this recognition is critical,” explains report co-author Dr. Emily Pidgeon, Conservation International’s Senior Director of Marine Strategic Initiatives and a leading Blue Carbon conservation scientist. “The management of carbon in coastal systems can already be included in a number of UNFCCC and REDD+ components. This plan was produced to help detail what we see as key next steps in terms of a full integration of blue carbon into existing initiatives.”
“We now have scientific evidence that conserving mangroves, tidal marshes, seagrasses and other blue carbon habitats is a very precious tool in our fight against climate change,” says Pierre-Yves Cousteau, IUCN’s Goodwill Ambassador and founder of Cousteau Divers, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the marine world. “These muddy coastal areas also help us adapt to the changing climate. They protect local communities from storms and regulate the quality of coastal water. Increased recognition of their importance among the climate change community will hopefully improve the way they’re managed and conserved.”
“We need to convince the broader policy community that blue carbon has a strong scientific basis and that it should be taken into account as a valuable tool in our suite of global efforts to confront and adapt to the impacts of climate change. We also need decision makers to understand that this tool requires adequate funding to maximize the many benefits it provides to people,” adds Pidgeon.
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