Blue Carbon: Understanding & Exploring the Complexities and Opportunities
The Conservation Collective hosted in December a webinar to explore the hot topic of blue carbon with a panel of experts featuring:
Mark Beeston, Fair Carbon
Karen Sack, Ocean Risk & Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA)
Daniel Crockett, Blue Marine Foundation
What is blue carbon and what are blue carbon ecosystems?
Blue carbon is simply the term for carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems (blue carbon ecosystems), which include seagrasses, salt marshes, and mangroves. These ecosystems are much more than just carbon sinks, as they host biodiversity, protect coastlines from extreme marine and climate events, and support human livelihoods.
Blue carbon ecosystems, though much smaller in size than the planet’s forests, sequester carbon at a much faster rate, and can continue to do so for millions of years. When these systems are damaged, an enormous amount of carbon is emitted back into the atmosphere, where it can then contribute to climate change.
What are blue carbon credits and how are they issued?
Blue carbon credits are a financial mechanism to protect blue carbon ecosystems while offsetting an investor’s carbon emissions. Projects certified to issue blue carbon credits work to protect, preserve and regenerate mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses.
Partners at Fair Carbon have developed a 10-step guide for understanding how projects enter the carbon market to issue credits and receive funding.
- The project needs to be developed in an area where the coastal ecosystem is damaged or threatened. This is the so-called ‘additionality’.
- The project needs to include a viable and local stakeholder-inclusive solution for the restoration/protection of the ecosystem
- The project needs to be registered with a Carbon Standard Agency (e.g., VERRA), which will verify and monitor the legitimacy of the project
- Initial seed funding for the project is required
- A methodology approved by the certifying Carbon Standard Agency is implemented to calculate the amount of blue carbon stored in the ecosystem and thus calculate the financial value $/ton of CO2 captured
- Progress of the project continues to be monitored and verified
- The Carbon Standard Agency issues blue carbon credits to the project, which can then be sold on the Voluntary Carbon Market
- Project monitoring continues and credits continue to be issued based on results
- Hopefully, credit sales pay for ongoing work, associated costs, and provide a return to the investor
- This is a very complicated process. Fair Carbon provides advice and expertise throughout the way.
Despite the current huge investor appetite for blue carbon, there are 33 only registered blue carbon projects across the world (half of which were registered in 2022), and most of them are not producing any credits yet.
The High-Quality Principles and Guidance for Investments in Blue Carbon – A triple benefit investment for people, nature, and the planet
Developed by ORRAA and other partners including the World Economic Forum, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International to ensure the sustainability, fairness and quality of the blue carbon market.
- Safeguard Nature: Conserve ecosystems, use rigorous science, and do no harm
- Empower People: Ensure free & informed consent, inclusive participation, accountability, respect traditional land rights & use, provide equitable access to the Voluntary Carbon Market, and equitable benefit sharing among local communities
- Employ the Best Information, Interventions, and Carbon Accounting Practices: Use best scientific knowledge, ensure transparent and accurate carbon accountancy and offset calculations, mitigate risk of reversal
- Operate Locally and Contextually: Integrate and account for the local social and ecological context, engage government bodies to ensure success of the project
- Mobilise High Integrity Capital: Set science-based targets in line with 1.5ºC goal, ensure fair and transparent pricing and compensation.
What are the Conservation Collective foundations doing on this?
Our foundations in Barbados, Sri Lanka, and Lamu are actively working with Blue Carbon experts on the assessment of potential projects.
The Lanka Environment Fund has been funding an assessment study on the carbon stock of seagrasses in the Vidattaltivu Nature Reserve to issue blue carbon credits as an alternative source of income for the conservation and the protection of the ecosystem from prospective aquaculture developments.
So… What’s next?
While it is important to acknowledge that blue carbon is not a silver bullet and that a lot of the underpinning science is still unknown, it is important to continue to research and support blue carbon potential projects, as they provide essential Nature-Based Solutions while restoring nature and biodiversity. Patience capital is needed until rigorous market regulations are standardised to avoid opaque practices and pricing that threatens and harms local and indigenous communities.