Mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, saltwater marshes – these and other ‘blue forests’ are vital to coastal and island communities around the world
In acknowledgement of the importance of blue forests ecosystems in supporting coastal communities, and in the mitigation for the impacts of climate change, many countries have committed to their conservation and restoration in international agreements. Several international and national frameworks guide or commit parties to protect, conserve and manage coastal blue forests ecosystems.
These include conventions, programs, agreements, protocols, such as the UNFCCC, Paris Agreement and Nationally Determined Contributions, IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, and Ramsar Convention.
Below are the key questions about international commitments and considerations.
UNFCCC: What is the UNFCCC and how does
blue carbon fit within it?
The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) refers to the need for sustainable management of oceans, and in particular coastal and marine ecosystems, for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Article 4 of the Convention already calls for Parties to “promote sustainable management, and promote and cooperate in the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including […] oceans as well as […] other coastal and marine ecosystems”. Thus, one option for enhancing ambition on climate action is through the inclusion of mangroves and other coastal ecosystems in a country’s climate actions (nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and implicit inclusion in the Paris Rulebook).
Between the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, a range of specific policy instruments for implementing and financing climate mitigation actions through nature-based activities are provided, some of which are of direct relevance to coastal ecosystems (and blue carbon). These include Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), National Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), the Land-Use, and some Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) activities including those implemented under the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM).
What is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?
Coastal blue carbon and Article 6: Implications and opportunities / IUCN /2018
UNFCCC SBSTA Dialogue on the Ocean and Climate Change / Conservation International + / 2020
Understanding Strategic Coastal Blue Carbon Opportunities in the Seas of East Asia / PEMSEA / 2017
NDCs: What is a nationally determined contribution and how can it recognize the value of blue carbon?
Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of these long-term goals. NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Article 4 of the Paris Agreement requires each Party to prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.
An NDC is a country’s entry point for climate policymaking as well as access to climate finance. While voluntary in nature, the NDC document sets out a country’s top priorities as well as its reporting framework. Its implementation will be guided by a wide range of in situ policies, challenges, and governance options.
Given the value of blue carbon ecosystems in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation, integrating blue carbon into NDC commitments is a valuable tool and a potential necessity for many countries over time, as ignoring a major source of emissions could undermine claims to consistency and ambition. Additionally, including blue carbon targets in a country’s NDC promotes multiple valuable policy benefits – from adaptation benefits, namely flood prevention, to a variety of other environmental benefits relating to clean water and biodiversity gains, among others – and, importantly, funding opportunities.
Blue carbon ecosystems can be recognized in a variety of ways in an NDC, including in measurable mitigation targets. Robust analysis may be required for stronger measures, including understanding blue carbon emissions trends, current and projected drivers of deforestation, viability, and impact of proposed interventions.
Blue Carbon and Nationally Determined Contributions: Guidelines on Enhanced Action / Blue Carbon Initiative / 2021
Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions: Opportunities for Ocean-Based Climate Action / World Resources Institute / 2021
Blue Nature-based Solutions in Nationally Determined Contributions. A booklet for successful implementation / GIZ / 2020
Coastal blue carbon ecosystems Opportunities for Nationally Determined Contributions. Policy brief / IUCN, TNC / 2016
NDCs: How do countries recognize blue forests ecosystems and blue carbon in their NDCs?
Inventories and on-line searchable databases can help policymakers, researchers and other stakeholders gather insights on countries' recognition of blue forests’ values. Related search terms include “mangroves”, “seagrass”, and “wetlands”.
NAMAs: What is a Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action and how can it recognize the value of blue carbon?
Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) are opportunities for developing countries to conduct climate mitigation projects that also have a focus on social benefits. NAMAs can include blue carbon efforts in land-use change, conservation, and restoration activities in coastal ecosystems. Blue carbon NAMAs have been explored [link to Case study Ecuador], successfully integrated into a NAMA remains to be achieved. NAMAs could become important tools for delivering on NDCs, as they connect and align local initiatives with regulatory powers often vested in national governments.
REDD+: What is REDD+ and how can it recognize the value of blue carbon?
The UN’s Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme (REDD+) aims to reduce emissions from forest degradation and deforestation, and support the conservation and sustainable management of forests, leading to the enhancement of carbon stocks.
REDD+ creates a financial value for the carbon stored in forests. When countries better manage and protect forests, as well as provide sustainable development opportunities for local forest communities, forest loss can be reduced. Carbon dioxide that would have been emitted into the atmosphere if the forests had been cleared remains stored in the standing trees. Once verified through the REDD+ mechanism, countries can receive financial payments for these reduced emissions.
Current efforts to advance blue carbon under REDD+ include recognizing mangrove forests more consistently into national REDD+ strategies and processes and a REDD+ Methodology Framework released in 2020.
RAMSAR: What is the Ramsar Convention and how can it recognize the value of blue carbon?
As a worldwide instrument for the conservation of wetlands the Ramsar Convention plays an important role in highlighting the climate regulation function of the world’s wetland ecosystems and in stimulating their conservation and restoration. The Ramsar Convention has recognized the need to integrate the multiple values of wetlands into decision making and has adopted a rapid assessment methodology for understanding wetland ecosystem services, including blue carbon and other blue forests values.
Convention on Biological Diversity: What is the Convention on Biological Diversity and how can it recognize the value of blue forests?
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a multilateral treaty for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” that has been ratified by 196 nations.
Blue forests are not just highly effective carbon sinks. They are biodiversity rich coastal habitats that feed, shelter and protect ecologically and economically important species. Protecting and restoring blue forests can therefore contribute to reducing biodiversity decline. This solution should be fully recognised in both national and international biodiversity commitments and plans.
Legal Frameworks: What international legal frameworks are relevant to mangrove conservation?
Mangroves can face international and transboundary threats. Their ecosystem services can benefit multiple countries within a region, and in the case of blue carbon the entire world. For such reasons, the international community has a valid interest in the conservation of mangroves as well as a mandate to support conservation efforts. International and transboundary mangrove conservation is informed by international principles and concepts, realized through key conventions that apply to mangroves and related ecosystems and activities.
Blue carbon horizons: How are emerging blue carbon ecosystems being recognized in international agreements?
Oceanic blue carbon is an emerging potential field in blue carbon. While questions in science and implementation remain to be answered, the concept is gaining recognition in international agreements, including through the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Convection on Migratory Species (CMS).
The Florianópolis Declaration on the role of the International Whaling Commission in the Conservation and Management of Whales in the 21st Century / IWC Resolution 2018-5 / 2018
Resolution on Advancing the Commission's Work on the Role of Cetaceans in the Ecosystems Functioning / IWC Resolution 2018-2 /2018
Conservation and Management of Whales and their Habitats in the South Atlantic Region / CMS Resolution 12.17. / 2017
Resolution on Cetaceans and their Contributions to Ecosystems Functioning / IWC Resolution 2016-3 / 2016
International fora: How can we communicate the value of blue forests in international fora?
In international environmental affairs, communication guides our understanding of the issue’s blue forests face, including threats, stakeholders involved, and possible approaches that can be taken in support of conservation and other goals. Examples of tools for communicating the value of blue forests and blue carbon at international fora include infographics, reports, flyers, policy briefs, sign -on letters, social media, press releases, and side events at international meetings. Networks and partnerships formed around the concept of blue carbon, play a key role in advancing understanding of the concept.
Blue Carbon - A new conservation frontier? / Blue Marine Foundation / 2021 (online conference)
Live from COP25: So, what about the Blue COP? / Global Landscapes Forum / 2019 (video)
Ocean & Climate / Ocean & Climate Platform / 2019 (video, French and English)
In Hot Water: The Climate Crisis and the Urgent Need for Ocean Protection / Greenpeace International / 2019
Accelerating Blue Carbon: Illuminating a path on where and how to fund the promise of blue carbon, igniting mass mobilization / Buckminster Fuller Institute / 2019
Blue Carbon at COP21 Blue Forests / Blue Forests Project / 2019
Blue Carbon Solutions for Climate Change: Open Statement to the Delegates of COP16 by the Blue Climate Coalition / Blue Climate Solutions / 2010
Blue carbon: first level exploration of blue carbon in the Arabian Peninsula / AGEDI, GRID-Arendal / 2011