Written by:

Lukas mira

Lucas Mira

Junior Associate

sara valero

Sara Valero

Blue Economy Expert

If you are new to the discussion on blue carbon, the first thing you need to know is that the term refers to coastal ecosystems including mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes which are critical ecosystems that remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans, storing it in plants and sediment. For this and many other reasons, these ecosystems are critical to mitigating climate impacts, building resilience , and improving overall human well-being. 

Mangroves, saltmarshes, and seagrasses are some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth and play a significant role for coastal ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), however, they are also among the most threatened. Once they are degraded or destroyed, they have the potential to contribute to the climate change problem as the blue carbon they store ​​is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide contributing to global climate change rather than combating it. As a means to illustrate this: mangrove forests store up to five times more carbon than most other tropical forests around the world – in total, around 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide (about three-quarters of the world’s emissions in 2019) are locked away in our planet’s blue-carbon sinks.

Present climate commitments under the Paris Agreement (Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) are currently insufficient to address the climate crisis. In addition, until recently, the international climate effort and the ocean conservation effort have been treated separately. This explains that although most countries referenced the ocean in their first round of NDCs, only a minority discussed ocean actions as climate solutions, and less than 20% of countries with coastal blue carbon ecosystems discussed their role as carbon sinks. To date, coastal wetlands are typically featured or referred to very visibly and clearly in an adaptation context, including in existing NDCs. However, it is often less clear whether they are included as critical aspects of mitigation efforts, and this represents a lost opportunity. According to a study done in 2016, out of 175 NDC submissions, only 28 countries included blue carbon as part of their mitigation strategies and 59 countries included it as part of their adaptation measures. For example, United Arab Emirates incorporated the value of blue carbon stocks into “Federal and Emirate Level” policies; Papua New Guinea included the expansion and management of mangrove ecosystems to protect coastal infrastructure and prevent damage to coral reefs; Mexico recognized the importance of wetlands for naturally treating water sources; and Kenya intends to include wetlands in estimating GHG emissions and removals, highlighting opportunities for nature-based solutions.

Why is it essential to include blue carbon in Nationally Determined Contributions NDCs
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Luckily this trend is starting to change and there is increasing recognition of the linkages between the ocean and climate change and the co-benefits that ecosystem conservation, restoration and management brings in terms of both adaptation and mitigation. Synergies between climate adaptation and mitigation strategies within NDCs provide an optimal approach for blue carbon ecosystem management. In addition, with the inclusion of carbon sequestration as an economic asset, given the opportunities to participate in carbon markets, well-rounded management planning for marine resources can benefit both a country’s GHG emissions profile and its economic framework for growth.

Inclusion of coastal ecosystems in NDCs also helps unlock external financial support and international climate finance given the opportunities for maximizing co-benefits and the “no-regret” nature of these interventions, as they would provide economic, social and environmental benefits regardless. Another key aspect regarding the inclusion of blue carbon in NDCs is the opportunity to include communities and community-based projects, as community based and locally led initiatives are acquiring an increased interest from the international community. People play a vital role in conservation and development efforts; thus, community-scale projects should be embedded within the larger framework of NDCs while ensuring that livelihoods or social justice are not compromised. According to a study published in 2022, working in partnership with communities is important for many reasons:

Inspirational blue carbon projects demonstrate how coastal ecosystems can be conserved and restored for the benefits of nature and people. Consequently, to be successful, community-based blue carbon initiatives must involve local people, have transparent and accountable governance structures, integrate their work into national policies and practices, ensure that their livelihoods are not jeopardized by the project (for example by creating a voluntary carbon market that offers alternative livelihoods), and simplify accounting and verification methodologies to lower entry barriers .

This new understanding of the reality offers countries the opportunity to consider blue carbon-like nature-based solutions beyond what has been originally included in NDCs, including recognizing blue carbon as an opportunity to fill the current emissions gap and advance the global goal of keeping the temperature increase below 2oC, as well as an opportunity to support communities and locally led types of interventions that maximize economic, environmental and social benefits and impacts. 

Why is it essential to include blue carbon in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)?


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