Blue carbon focus could sail Indonesia through Paris targets

Boating through mangroves in Lake Sentarum in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Yayan Indriatmoko/CIFOR

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The next U.N. climate talks will be known as the “blue COP,” said a top mangroves expert at the COP24 conference venue in Katowice, Poland, where thousands of delegates from around the world are trying to forge an agreement over how best to tackle global warming.

Daniel Murdiyarso, blue carbon champion and  principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) made the remarks about how best to manage carbon stored in the world’s coastal  and ocean ecosystems at a side event organized by Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs.

Known as “blue,” because of its association with the ocean, Indonesia’s 3.5 million hectares of mangroves and 0.3 million hectares of seagrass meadows store about 3.5 billion tons of carbon. The government of Indonesia has made a commitment to restore 52 percent of mangroves.

We need to focus not only on restoration and rehabilitation, but also on conserving intact mangroves, Murdiyarso said, adding that the two should go hand in hand.

"if we act seriously on mangroves and seagrass, we can meet the Paris objectives relatively easily"

“Indonesia’s coastal mangroves and seagrass meadows are unmatched in their efficiency at locking carbon, preserving and restoring these coastal superheroes makes social, environmental, and economic sense for Indonesians and the world at large facing climate change and sea level rise,” he said.

Straddling the Pacific and Indian oceans, Indonesia less impressively boasts some of the highest mangrove losses worldwide. Forty percent of its mangroves cover has been destroyed in the last three decades, in large part due to aquaculture development- which generates $2 billion annually.

“There’s hope that if we act seriously on mangroves and seagrass, we can meet the Paris objectives relatively easily, Murdiyarso said, referring to the 2015 U.N. Paris Agreement on climate change aimed at keeping global warming in check, the focus of negotiations in Katowice.

In 2016, Indonesia defined its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as part of The Paris Agreement – to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 834 million tons, or 1.1 billion ton carbon dioxide equivalent with international support by 2030.

“Indonesia’s NDC ambitions can and should be enhanced by engaging local people and local government,” Murdiyarso said.

A science-backed strategy to restore mangroves and improve livelihoods should include mapping.  Additionally, activating the current regulatory framework and governance at a provincial level is critical to meet low carbon development goals and align with the global agenda.

“Mangroves make up six percent of Indonesia’s annual forest loss, but up to one third of emissions from the land use sector could be prevented every year if it were stopped”


A moratorium on mangrove deforestation is one of the recommendations that Murdiyarso says is urgently required: “Mangroves make up six percent of Indonesia’s annual forest loss, but up to one third of emissions from the land use sector could be prevented every year if it were stopped” he said, explaining their efficiency in storing carbon, which surpasses the amount tropical forests can sequester.

Building climate resilience amongst the world’s most at-risk communities is a key topic at COP24. A recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report set the world a 12-year deadline to avoid climate catastrophe – coastal communities are amongst the most at risk if this is missed.

Protecting and maintaining the health of blue carbon ecosystems should therefore be of paramount priority. As well as locking-in carbon, mangroves provide protection from flooding and sea level rise, natural phenomena such as tsunamis and typhoons, and coastal erosion. They also regulate water quality and increase food security – as they act as both nursery and spawning grounds for many species of fish.

At a presentation delivered in the COP24 Korean Pavilion, Murdiyarso shared photos of the pristine mangroves of Indonesia’s West Papua province and degraded mangroves in abandoned shrimp ponds on Java. He underlined that financial streams in these contrasting situations are different and should be treated uniquely.

“Preserving intact ecosystems is financially more effective than restoring degraded ones” he said. From carbon market perspectives a moratorium on mangrove conversion could generate $3 billion a year in abatement costs.

Various public-private partnership opportunities exist, which would make conservation economically viable. Murdiyarso continued: “We need strong governance and coalition between government agencies in all of Indonesia’s islands, a ramp up of research capacity, and partnerships that can build a blue economy that benefits coastal communities”.

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