Conference report: Blue carbon at the heart of a healthy climate

With COP26 approaching, we must keep pushing the health of the ocean as a central piece in the combat against climate change. Blue Marine Foundation's conference report shows how globally ubiquitous coastal habitats like mangroves and tidal marshes – blue carbon ecosystems – play a vital role in maintaining the health of the environment and mitigating the consequences of climate change.
Image Courtesy of the Blue Marine Foundation

Blue carbon plays a central yet little-known role in the well-being and health of the environment, communities, and the economy. The term refers to the process of sequestering and storing of carbon dioxide by marine and coastal habitats such as mangroves and tidal marshes, which proliferate across the globe. Through processes of marine plant growth and the burial of sediments, blue carbon habitats have the capacity to hold carbon stocks dozens of times larger than those of equivalent land ecosystems. This makes the sustainable management of blue carbon ecosystems vital for the combat against climate change, as not only do they secure the partial removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere but they also act as buffer zones against coastal erosion, thus helping us adapt to the effects of climate change.

Yet the importance of blue carbon is only slowly being acknowledged all the while these ecosystems are being lost and destroyed at an exponential rate. The sustainable management of such habitats – the challenges and opportunities behind it – was the subject of Blue Carbon: a New Frontier for Conservation?, a pioneering international conference hosted by the Blue Marine Foundation on 9 June 2021. Bringing together leading international blue carbon scientists and policymakers, the conference aimed to unite the community and share evidence about the human impact in the health of blue carbon systems and to build momentum ahead of COP26. Participants recognised the need for better coordination between scientists, government agencies, and NGOs and for putting sustainable ocean management at the core of climate change agendas. Commercial activities at sea, such as deep-sea trawling, are at the core of debates on the health of the ocean, and therefore of the environment, which makes the engagement of coastal communities and broader politics crucial for the success and growth of blue carbon projects.

The establishment of the UK Blue Carbon Forum, which will build on the success of the conference, acknowledges the vital role of community engagement and of collaboration between NGOs, scientists, and civil servants to catalyse policies to protect the ocean and, inextricably, the climate. Speaking to the community-centred approach we have promoted through the years with our climate and ocean programmes, stakeholders agree that local community involvement is critical for the long-term effectiveness of blue carbon projects. In light of UNFCCC process, this Forum will enable an increase in the profile of blue carbon habitats and will ensure that marine protection networks also support climate resilience in a manner “which should be inclusive of everybody, from the markets, to the science, to the policy.”

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