Coastal Blue Carbon
It was not until 2009 that the specific value and role of mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrasses for climate change mitigation began to be addressed by climate policy experts. IUCN issued a landmark report on the Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks. These carbon-rich coastal ecosystems have come to be referred to as “blue carbon”.
From the scientific foundation publications produced in 2009 it became rapidly clear that national carbon accounting efforts showed a substantial ‘blue carbon gap’ between knowledge of these carbon sinks and the actions being taken by governments to safeguard their futures. IUCN, together with its partners, especially Conservation International and IOC-UNESCO as part of the Blue Carbon Initiative, and most recently through the newly formed International Blue Carbon Partnership, has developed guidance for international and national policy making, as well as one how to finance blue carbon projects and programmes. IUCN is also a partner in the UNEP/GEF Blue Forest Project.
Ocean Blue Carbon
While vegetated coastal systems such as mangroves, marshes and seagrasses store globally significant amounts of “blue carbon” for millennia, marine ecosystems and species in the open ocean or deep sea (i.e., corals, kelp, plankton and marine fauna), play a substantial role in the carbon cycle but they only temporarily store carbon. Unlike coastal ecosystems, the marine systems and species mentioned do not demonstrate globally relevant, long-term climate mitigation potential and in some cases have jurisdictional challenges related to management. But an ecologically degraded ocean loses its capacity to support the carbon cycle and act broadly as a carbon sink.
Further debate and dialogues are now needed to analyse the usefulness and opportunities to develop an incentive mechanism for the open ocean under the Climate Convention. There may be opportunities for a UNFCCC oceans emissions work program to complement activities under other processes (e.g. UNCLOS, CBD, RFMOs) which are concerned about the sustainable management of our diverse marine resources and their services. MPAs and other area-based management efforts are opportunities for no-regret climate change tools and are now needed more than ever for sustaining a functioning ocean which continues to serve as a carbon sink.
Find out more on the topic in "The Significance and Management of Natural Carbon Stores in the Open Ocean"