What is blue carbon and why it is important?
‘Blue carbon’ refers to the world’s carbon stores that are stashed in the plants and soil of coastal and marine ecosystems – such as mangrove forests, tidal marshes, algae, and seagrass meadows.
As we straddle the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) – and countries pursue means to meet the emission reduction targets stipulated in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change – the quest to save and grow our blue carbon stores through restoration and protection is gaining increasing attention.
Mangroves can store four to six times as much carbon as tropical rainforests, through their combination of high productivity and secured mineralized soil carbon storage. Globally, they host around 1.6 percent of tropical forests’ biomass, while occupying only 0.6 percent of their area.
Nonetheless, many blue carbon ecosystems such as mangroves are facing tremendous pressure from unsustainable economic activities – with far-reaching impacts on climate, biodiversity, and livelihoods.
Indonesia’s mangroves: a case in point
The Indonesian archipelago houses about a fifth of global mangroves – the largest extent of mangrove ecosystems in the world. Avoiding further emissions from the more than 3 billion tons of carbon they contain would provide huge market opportunities.
The Center for International Forestry Research–World Agroforestry Centre (CIFOR-ICRAF) has been carrying out ground-breaking research on Indonesia’s mangrove ecosystems and coastal communities for decades. Over the years, researchers have detected the opportunities for mangrove restoration including:
- A strong governance system is required to enable institutions and regulatory frameworks to be operationalized effectively.
- Blue carbon natural capital will receive public attention and attract investment when public policies recognize the rights and responsibilities of stakeholders in accessing information.
- A multistakeholder approach –involving the private sector, the business community, and local people – can help to inspire mangrove forest management that provides tangible benefits for livelihoods and development – whilst keeping these critical ecosystems intact.