By Barbara Fraser, originally published at Forests News
Conservation and restoration of the world’s coastal wetlands and mangroves—threatened by excavation and drainage for shrimp farms and development—can buffer the effects of climate change, protect livelihoods and avoid the emission of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases every year.
But those benefits will wash away with the next storm unless the project is planned well and implemented effectively, experts say. Drawing on examples from around the world, a new publication from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) provides guidance for successful wetland or “coastal blue carbon” projects.
“Guiding principles for delivering coastal wetland carbon projects” offers information ranging from an overview of the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems to possibilities for carbon financing.
The publication was launched Dec. 9 at an event hosted by the Indonesian government on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. “This publication is very timely,” Heru Prasetyo, the Head of Indonesia’s National REDD+ Agency, said at the book launch. “In the discussion of climate change, the issue of blue carbon, or ecosystems going beyond landscapes and merging into seascapes, is very important.”
‘NO SINGLE SIZE FITS ALL’
Coastal wetlands deliver among highest ecosystem service values of all natural systems, said Tim Christopherson, UNEP senior program officer for forests and climate change.
Because they store large amounts of carbon while providing other services—including protection against storm surges, ecotourism opportunities and spawning habitat for fish—mangroves and wetlands both mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help people living along the coast adapt to a changing climate, said Daniel Murdiyarso, principal scientist at CIFOR and one of the publication’s co-authors.
“The question is how to find synergies between mitigation and adaptation strategies,” he said. “Coastal wetlands vary from place to place, and no single size fits all. There must be options.”
Although inclusion of coastal ecosystems in carbon finance markets is new, lessons can be drawn from around the world, said co-author Stephen Crooks, climate change program manager at Environmental Science Associates (ESA). The cases examined by the authors included wetlands in Abu Dhabi, China, Guyana, Kenya, the United States and West Papua. “The fundamental message is to conserve first,” said Crooks, who works with a group that has restored 1,500 wetlands in the past four decades.
Degraded wetlands can be restored, as long as planners remember that mangroves must be planted above the mean tide level and consider factors such as sea level rise and allowing room for wetlands to migrate as conditions change, Crooks said.
That means thinking on a landscape scale and planning for the future, as well as practical considerations, such as dealing with unclear land tenure and restoring natural ecosystem processes instead of resorting to levees and culverts. “Poor project planning is one of the most important factors in project failure,” Crooks said.
NOT JUST CARBON
The publication offers guidelines for planning a blue carbon project, such as choosing a carbon standard and a greenhouse gas accounting method and evaluating the risk of leakage—the possibility that conservation or restoration of a wetland in one place could lead to more clearing for shrimp farms somewhere else.
The authors also highlight the need to gain support from local residents by stressing the many services mangroves and other coastal wetlands provide. “These ecosystems aren’t just important for carbon,” Crooks said. They are also important for biological diversity, flood and storm protection, forest products, ecotourism possibilities, and cultural and spiritual values, he said. “And they provide a lot of fish.”