Story | 20 Jan, 2017

Mangrove Restoration: Offering two-for-one solutions to climate change

Climate mitigation and adaptation are a country’s most pressing actions in the face of a looming global climate crisis with catastrophic consequences already occurring in many coastal regions. Now, the restoration of mangrove forests and other coastal systems is emerging as a solution  serving both as a carbon sink as well as offering coastal protection and food security.

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Photo: IUCN / James Oliver

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement, governments re-affirmed the importance of sustaining and restoring healthy ecosystems, including coastal areas, for their climate mitigation benefits. Faced with the task of submitting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in which countries commit to self-imposed actions and targets against climate change, many embraced the two-for-one approach of mangrove restoration – significant mitigation and adaptation gains for the cost of restoring one ecosystem.

A recent publication by IUCN, TNC and several other partners highlighted mangrove restoration efforts for mitigating climate change in the NDCs of Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh*, Belize*, Benin*, Cameroon*, Cote d’Ivoire*, Cuba, Djibouti, Fiji*, Grenada*, Guinea*, Guyana, Haiti, India*, Kiribati*, Madagascar*, Republic of Marshall Islands*, Mauritius*, Mexico*, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia*, Senegal*, Somalia*, Sri Lanka*, Suriname, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates* and Vietnam* (* indicates parties who have ratified their NDCs).

All 29 nations have identified mangrove restoration as a means for climate mitigation and are currently at various stages of implementation – from changing policies to replanting entire mangrove forests. But their motivations for doing so differ. To a large extent, their motivations depend on the individual challenges and threats they are facing.

Belize, for example, aims to restore and protect mangroves focussing on turning its mangrove system into a net carbon sink, while recognising mangroves as protective systems for low-lying coastal areas against impacts of storms and soil erosion. Djibouti has very similar incentives; however, the country’s decision makers also place emphasis on the additional potential revenue generated through ecotourism.

India has already made substantial strides in mangrove restoration and is participating in Mangroves For the Future, an initiative to protect coastal livelihoods coordinated by IUCN in India. India’s main incentive for mangrove restoration efforts is climate adaptation for disaster risk reduction and thus refers to mangroves as ‘bio-shields’. The United Arab Emirates places a strong focus on climate mitigation and, under their National Blue Carbon Project, is undertaking significant restoration and plantation efforts of both mangroves and seagrass systems.  

Plenty more potential in mangroves

It is clear that with the Paris Agreement the world has taken a big step toward effective climate action. However, it is not yet ambitious enough to keep us under the 2°C target. Current estimates show that the NDC commitments to date will still lead to a warming of between 2.6–3.1°C by 2100.

Every five years, nations will be requested to resubmit their NDCs – with revised and more ambitious actions and targets. Fortunately, there is still the underexploited potential to work with mangrove restoration as a nature-based solution in an effort to address climate change. After all, the involvement of just 29 out of 123 mangrove harbouring nations leaves scope for the improvement of climate mitigation pledges (acknowledging that some countries do take action for mangrove restoration under different programmes). Nonetheless, some seeds of change have been planted, many branches of opportunity are growing, and now is the time for mangroves to thrive.

Mapping Ocean Wealth has recently reviewed many scientific studies which found good evidence for labelling mangroves as a posterchild for co-benefits. Mangrove forests have recently been revealed as extremely efficient climate mitigators, storing 3-4 times more carbon in their soils than those of tropical forests, and remaining stable for centuries (400-770yrs). Meanwhile, mangrove belts of only 100meters width have been shown to reduce wave heights by up to 66%, making them excellent tools for climate adaptation.

This article series on mangrove restoration is written by Juliet Blum and Dorothée Herr from IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Programme with the support of Germany's International Climate Initiative (IKI) through the IUCN Global Forest and Climate Change Programme.