Thursday, March 4, 2010

Blue Carbon …new name, old problem

Blue Carbon …new name, old problem
Written by Caroline Silsbury
Thursday, 04 March 2010

World Wetlands Day has come and gone, but the event’s sponsor, the United Nations Environment Program, is still working to encourage better care for the world’s seacoasts. Last week, UNEP’s Executive Director and Indonesia’s Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries announced a joint “global scientific assessment on Blue Carbon”.

Blue carbon is the latest addition to UNEP’s climate change rainbow. “Black” and “brown” carbons are the soot and greenhouse gases produced when fossil fuels are burnt or carbon-containing materials (like garbage dumps and manure piles) break down. “Green” carbon refers to the greenhouse gases trapped and stored by the world’s forests and grasslands. “Blue” carbon refers to the portion trapped and stored in marine environments, including open sea, coral reefs, seagrass beds and coastal mangroves, estuaries and salt marshes.

The idea was actually launched with a report issued last October during National Marine Month in South Africa. The name “blue carbon” came from the report’s estimate that about 55% of the carbon dioxide captured and stored by the world’s natural carbon “sinks” went into marine environments. Plants – seagrass, mangroves and marshes – account for only about 1% of the total marine area but do about 70% of the carbon capturing.

We have known for a long time about the value of these areas as water purifiers, coastal defenses and nurseries for birds and marine life. They are vital to food security for nearly half the world’s people, including many of the poorest. In fact, the UNEP report puts an average annual “service value” of about US$90,000 on each hectare of the world’s mangroves, and about US$12,000 per hectare on seagrass beds. (A hectare is about 2.5 acres.)

Their value as intense, hard-working carbon sinks has been less appreciated. The total mass of marine plant life is tiny compared to the mass on land, but the UNEP report estimates that it traps just as much carbon dioxide every year. And marine carbon sinks are almost permanent. Carbon that finds its way to the sea floor will stay there for thousands of years, compared to a few decades for rainforests.

However, these areas are being damaged or destroyed, mostly by bad land use management. According to the report’s editor, “Since the 1940’s, over 30% of the mangroves, close to 25% of salt marshes and over 30% of seagrass meadows have been lost. We are losing these crucial ecosystems much faster than rainforests and at the very time we need them.”

The remedy, it seems, is “Save what’s left. Then plant more.” In fact, there has been a lot of mangrove replanting in Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam and Indonesia. Salt marshes are being restored in the U.S. and Europe. In the Caribbrean, though, we’re just getting to “Save what’s left”.

UNEP has proposed a Blue Carbon Fund to provide technical and financial support for improved coastal management. This will likely be similar to the program that now pays developing countries to stop deforestation on land, and helps them sell the resulting “green carbon” credits. There may also be a profit opportunity in saving seagrass, mangroves and marshes. One of new fund’s objectives will be to measure and define blue carbon areas, and help the countries that look after them to market carbon credits – doing well by doing good.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nine U.S. Senators Endorse 'Blue Carbon'

Nine U.S. Senators Endorse Marine Conservation Solutions to Climate Change

MIAMI, FL. / March 2, 2010 / An international coalition today, thanked the nine U.S. Senators who sponsored the Clean Energy Partnerships Act, for advancing marine conservation as part of the solution to climate change.

The Act is focused on mitigating climate change and making the transition to a clean energy economy, through offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

The legislation advances marine conservation by including the restoration and conservation of certain coastal and marine ecosystems, which capture and store atmospheric carbon, in the list of eligible mitigation projects. Other mitigation projects include sustainable agriculture and forestry practices.

Recent reports produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that, when healthy, mangrove forests, saltwater marshlands and seagrass meadows are extremely effective at storing atmospheric carbon, thereby mitigating climate change. The reports are titled ‘Blue Carbon’ and ‘The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks,’ respectfully.

"Restoring seagrass, mangroves and salt-marshes is a win-win strategy, because they contribute to mitigate climate change through their carbon sink potential, that rivals with the Amazonian forest in intensity, but at the same time help recover fisheries and protect shorelines" said Prof Carlos M. Duarte, co-author of the UNEP report and Director of the International Laboratory for Global Change at the Spanish Council for Scientific Research.

"For too long we have focused solely on terrestrial habitats such as forests, peatlands and certain soil types as effective ways to manage natural carbon sinks. I am delighted that this important introduction in the U.S. Senate provides long-awaited recognition to these coastal habitats" Prof Dan Laffoley, editor of the IUCN report and Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas commented.

"These habitats are shown to lock away significant amounts of carbon and this move demonstrates that the world-wide loss of such features is not just a significant concern for wildlife and coastal communities dependent on them, but also for effective management of our carbon sinks and emissions," he added.

The Secretary of Commerce is given a role administering the rules for marine offset programs in the Act.

The Clean Energy Partnerships Act was introduced by Senator Debbie Ann Stabenow (MI), and co-sponsored by Max Baucus (MT), Mark Begich (AK), Sherrod Brown (OH), Robert Casey (PA), Thomas Harkin (IA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Bill Nelson (FL), and Jeanne Shaheen (NH).

"Our oceans are critically important to climate and the global carbon cycle. This is the first time healthy coasts and oceans have been introduced into legislation as part of the solution to climate change," said Steven J. Lutz, Executive Director of Blue Climate Solutions, the group that organized the coalition effort. "The Blue Climate Coalition commends the sponsoring Senators for demonstrating strong environmental and climate change leadership."

Additional information:

Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 2009, S. 2729

Includes coastal and marine offset projects ("projects to restore or prevent the conversion, loss, or degradation of vegetated marine coastal habitats") (see page 20, line 13)

Includes wetland offset projects ("management and restoration of peatland or wetland") (see page 20, line 4)

Authorizes the Secretary of Commerce for coastal, ocean or marine offset projects (see page 13, line 20)

Available at:

The Senate thank-you letters are available at: