The term “blue carbon” refers to the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. The so-called blue carbon ecosystems – mangroves, tidal and salt marshes, and seagrasses – are highly productive coastal ecosystems that are particularly important for their capacity to store carbon within the plants and in the sediments below. Scientific assessments show that they can sequester two to four times more carbon than terrestrial forests and are thereby considered a key component of nature-based solutions to climate change.
Healthy blue carbon ecosystems also provide habitat for marine species, support fish stocks and food security, sustain coastal communities and livelihoods, filter water flowing into our oceans and reef systems, and protect coastlines from erosion and storm surges. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and cover approximately 49 million hectares.
Despite their importance, coastal blue carbon ecosystems are some of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. They are being degraded or destroyed at four times the rate of tropical forests and climate change threatens to accelerate these losses. Nearly 50% of the pre-industrial, natural extent of global coastal wetlands have been lost since the 19th century. This decline continues today, with estimated losses of ∼0.5–3% annually depending on ecosystem type. Mangrove forest exploitation, urban and industrial coastal development, pollution, and pressures from agriculture and aquaculture are some of the common causes for coastal ecosystem degradation. Due to their high carbon content, blue carbon ecosystems can turn into significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions when degraded or lost. The ongoing carbon losses from blue carbon ecosystems are estimated to account for up to 19% of emissions from global deforestation.
Our work on Blue Carbon
IOC is engaged at the scientific and policy levels with the vision to protect, manage or restore global blue carbon ecosystems (mangroves, seagrasses and tidal/salt marshes) for addressing climate change.
The Blue Carbon Initiative (BCI) – co-organized by IOC, Conservation International (CI) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – works to develop management approaches, financial incentives and policy mechanisms for ensuring the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of coastal blue carbon ecosystems. It engages local, national, and international governments in order to promote policies that support coastal blue carbon conservation, management and financing. The goal is to develop comprehensive methods for assessing blue carbon stocks and emissions, which will be implemented by projects around the world that demonstrate the feasibility of blue carbon accounting, management and incentive agreements.
Since 2015, the IOC is Partner of the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC) and since 2020 is sharing the Coordinator role with the Australian Government Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. The aim of the Partnership is to provide an open forum for government agencies, non-governmental organisations, intergovernmental organisations and research institutions to connect, share and collaborate to build solutions, take actions, and benefit from the experience and expertise of the global community, with a vision to protect, sustainably manage and restore global coastal blue carbon ecosystems. The Partnership was launched at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015 by nine founding Partners and has since expanded to more than 54 Partners in 2022.