Coastal Blue Carbon - Facts and figures

17 December 2012 | Fact sheet

Conserving and restoring terrestrial forests, and more recently peatlands, has been recognized as an important component of climate change mitigation. These approaches are now being broadened to manage other natural systems that contain rich carbon reservoirs and show significant emissions due to conversion and degradation – such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagreasses.

Key facts about coastal ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems

  • Mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses sequester and store large quantities of blue carbon in the plants, but mainly in the soils beneath them. About 95% to 99% of total carbon stocks of salt marshes and seagrasses are stored in the soils beneath them.
  • These systems are being degraded and destroyed at a rapid pace along the world’s coastlines: global annual loss rate is 1–2% for tidal marshes; 0.7–3% for mangroves; and 0.4–2.6% for seagrasses.
  • The loss of these systems releases significant emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the ocean, contributing to climate change. Emissions from drained coastal wetlands result in about 3-19% of emissions from REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
  • Coastal ecosystems provide other significant benefits for climate change adaptation, local livelihoods, tourism and culture such as protection from storms and prevention of shoreline erosion, regulation of coastal water quality, habitat for important fish species and other important and vulnerable species.

What needs to be done?

  • Reduce the pressure on coastal ecosystems from human activities and diminish global rate of loss.
  • Fast-track national implementation of conservation and restoration measures in developing countries for example through REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) or NAMAs (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions).
  • Ensure that the full scope of nature-based activities for climate change mitigation and adaptation, including from coastal activities, are included into any new global climate regime, related mechanisms and financing streams.
  • Conduct national scientific carbon, ecological and socio-economic assessments of coastal marine ecosystems.

What is IUCN doing?

International policy
IUCN championed this issue at a global scale bringing it to the attention of policy makers for the first time. IUCN is now working with governments and other stakeholders to identify, develop and implement international policy measures to support coastal planning and management activities that promote conservation, restoration and sustainable use of coastal blue carbon systems through the UNFCCC and other relevant international agreements.

National activities
IUCN is working with countries to design appropriate climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies related for example to REDD and NAMAs, and natural resource management policies and practices, consistent with implementing the provisions of UNFCCC and other international commitments.

IUCN supports the development and implementation of effective strategies for ocean, coastal and fisheries management, to improve the resilience of coastal ecosystems and dependent livelihoods, giving them a better chance to respond and to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Scientific research
IUCN, in collaboration with various research institutes, is examining current scientific knowledge gaps on the role of coastal ecosystem for climate change mitigation.

Blue Carbon Initiative
IUCN, together with Conservation International (CI) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, is co-leading the Blue Carbon Initiative. This Initiative is the first integrated program focused on mitigating climate change by conserving and restoring coastal marine ecosystems globally and works with partners from national governments, research institutions, NGOs, coastal communities, intergovernmental and international bodies and other relevant stakeholders.