Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blue Carbon at the World Expo 2012

The World Expo 2012 in Yeosu, Korea, last week provided the high-tech venue for a symposium on the effects of climate change on the world's oceans, a gathering of scientists and experts from around the world to discuss the interactions between oceans and climate, two systems intricately linked with each other and with the fate of humanity.

One of the topics discussed during the symposium was blue carbon, or carbon stored and sequestered in the world's coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass, tidal saltmarshes or macroalgae.

The workshop on ‘Coastal Blue Carbon: Mitigation opportunities and vulnerability to climate change’ was co-organized and co-sponsored by Pusan National University and UNEP. Scientists working in Spain, USA, Canada, China, Indonesia, Kenya and Korea presented their work on carbon storage and sequestration in coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass, tidal saltmarshes and seaweed. The presentations given were:

  • Vegetated coastal habitats as intense carbon sinks: Understanding and using Blue Carbon strategies’ by Nuria Marba (Institut Mediterrani d’Estudis Avan├žats, Spain)
  • The UNEP Blue Carbon Initiative’ by Gabriel Grimsditch (UNEP)
  • Predicting the response of coastal marshes and mangroves to sea level rise and human impacts: state of science and information needs’ by Stephen Crooks (Philip Williams and Associates, USA)
  • Effects of Tidal Regimes, Mariculture and Restoration on Carbon Pools and Fluxes in Subtropical Mangrove Ecosystems of China: Implications for Blue Carbon Management’ by Guanghui Lin (Tsinghua University, China)
  • Assessing the permanence of Blue Carbon sinks with rising sea levels’ by Gail Chmura (McGill University, Canada)
  • The potential of Ecological Mangrove Rehabilitation to contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions from deforested and degraded mangrove areas in Indonesia’ by James Davie (Mangrove Action Project Indonesia) 
  • Mangroves and carbon in West and Central Africa by Gabriel Grimsditch (UNEP) on behalf of Gordon Ajonina (Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society)
  • Kelp forest/seaweed bed as mitigation and adaptation measure: Korean Project Overview’ by Ik Kyo Chung (Pusan National University, Korea).
The presentations, by some of the world's leading experts on restoration of coastal ecosystems and carbon, prompted discussion on two important and innovative blue carbon issues.

The first concerned best practices for developing carbon market projects based on coastal ecosystems and their abilities to sequestrated carbon. Now that methodologies for carbon market projects for mangroves and saltmarshes have either been approved or are in the process of development, we are beginning to see the emergence of projects to manage and restore these ecosystems for carbon credits. However, best practices for feasibility assessments, landscape considerations, permanence considerations, leakage, baselines, future scenarios and restoration practices are often not implemented in these fledgling carbon market projects, increasing their likelihood of failure. Appropriate guidance for assessing the feasibility and then implementing the activities related to these types of innovative projects either don't exist or have not yet permeated to project developers. The need and potential for this type of guidance for coastal blue carbon market projects was apparent, and this workshop explored how this guidance could be developed and disseminated in order to ensure that project developers have the best information necessary.

Another important, and regionally pertinent, issue discussed was the potential for macroalgae such as kelp or seaweed to act as a carbon sink. Although naturally macroalgae does photosynthesize and absorb carbon dioxide through primary productivity, growing up to 0.6 metres per day in some cases, it is not clear whether this carbon is sequestered and stored for the long term and whether it is thus effective for climate change mitigation. This is because seaweed does not put down deep sediments and instead grows on rocky substrates. Most of the carbon is stored in the fast-growing biomass, and the long term fate of this carbon is often unclear. However it only takes three to five years to develop the climax stage for a newly established macroalgal habitats in the marine environment, compared to the terrestrial ecosystems which take more than 50 years.

Seaweed farming for food, fertilizer, paper and biofuel is a growth sector especially in East Asian countries such as Korea, and the possibilities for the carbon market should be explored. The Korean professor from Pusan National University, Ik Kyo Chung, presented his work in the country and showed that farmed seaweed (i.e., not a natural community) sequestered between 15.7 and 16.6 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year, clearly indicating the potential as a carbon sink. Questions can be raised, though, about the permanence of this carbon sequestration, and we need to explore the fate of the carbon if the seaweed is used as biofuel, fertilizer, paper or food. A global issues paper outlining the current state of knowledge and the necessary questions to address would be an interesting step in raising the profile of this innovative form of blue carbon. Professor Chung even proposed the Coastal Use and Coastal Use Change Aquatic Vegetation as the coastal equivalent of the UNFCCC/IPCC category Land Use and Land Use Change Forests.

This workshop was certainly thought-provoking, and showed once again that the full potential of blue carbon is still a long way from being realized.

Venue details:

Blue Carbon workshop at World Expo 2012 in Yeosu, Korea

Workshop:  Coastal Blue Carbon: Mitigation opportunities and vulnerability to climate change

Symposium:  Effects of the climate change on the world’s oceans

Venue: Yeosu, Korea

Date: 14 May 2012


Post submitted by Gabriel Grimsditch, UNEP