Community support crucial to blue carbon success

Quantifying environmental benefits is vital but don't undervalue good governance and equitable benefit sharing
Étudiants collectant des échantillons de sol provenant de carottes de sol pour déterminer les teneurs en carbone. Photo de D.Murdiyarso/CIFOR-ICRAF.

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The quality of a blue carbon ecosystem project, essential for investor appeal, must be judged by strong social outcomes, benefit sharing, and community support, all of which can ultimately determine the project’s sustainability and contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

That was a key message from a panel of leading academics, scientists, and practitioners convened 11 May 2023 to discuss approaches to ‘Improving forest carbon market confidence with quality blue carbon credits,’ during the final day of the Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI) Plenary 2023.

Quantifying environmental benefits is vital for a successful blue carbon project, yet good governance, significant social impacts and equitable benefit sharing cannot be undervalued in moving towards a high-quality blue carbon market that can deliver social and environmental justice, panelists said.

Ultimately, its success will be measured by sustainability based on local community support, buy-in, and long-term behavioural change, said Daniel Murdiyarso, principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research-World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), and session moderator.

For example, a mangrove restoration project could appear, on paper, to provide significant benefits in terms of capturing and holding carbon linked with climate change, he said. But that’s not enough.

“Even if mangroves are restored, if the people are still poor and behaving as they did before, that is not a good indicator of success,” said Murdiyarso. “Their ownership is crucial….if everyone disappears, when projects finish, that is not a success. Addressing this is really the challenge.”

The three-day GFOI event drew more than 300 experts to the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with many more joining online.

Coastal blue carbon ecosystems, including mangroves, tidal salt marshes, and seagrasses, are significant for their capacity to store carbon within the plants and in the sediments below. That’s why these ecosystems are considered a key component of nature-based solutions to climate change.

Preventing their degradation or loss, as well as their restoration, can increase carbon dioxide capture and storage and while providing incomes for local communities, increasing resilience for landscapes and for the people who live there.

Blue carbon’s significance is also demonstrated by its role in many countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). At least 28 countries have included blue carbon from coastal wetlands in their mitigation plans and some 59 countries have added coastal ecosystems to adaptation strategies in their NDCs, noted Murdiyarso.

Indonesia’s 3.36 million hectares of mangroves face threats including Illegal logging, conversion due to aquaculture, plantations, infrastructure demands and coastal reclamation, said Noviar, director of peatland restoration and mangrove rehabilitation planning in Indonesia’s Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency. He outlined priorities in Indonesia’s mangrove rehabilitation program.

Making the most of high-resolution satellite imagery to generate data and identify mangrove areas for potential restoration work is important, but often, smaller countries and small island nations face hurdles due their lack of capacity, said Pablo Martin, an FAO remote sensing specialist for monitoring ecosystem restoration.

To address that, FAO and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have developed a manual that supports capacity-building to help countries take advantage of the latest technologies in mapping and monitoring mangroves, said Martin. Case studies are presented on estimating mangrove extent, structure, condition and change, with historical aerial photography, current high-resolution optical and active satellite imagery, and locally acquired UAV imagery.

A significant investment gap exists between biodiversity conservation financing and global biodiversity conservation needs, said Melissa Abderrahim, marine programme officer with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She described two IUCN-managed funding schemes that could “increase the global supply of investment-ready blue carbon and blue natural capital projects….by building the business case for investing in blue nature-based solutions, supporting the development and implementation of quality blue carbon projects, facilitating capacity building through technical collaboration, and applying monitoring and measurement approaches that value climate biodiversity, and livelihood benefits of ecosystems.”

The Blue Natural Capital Financing Facility (BNCFF) supports investable BNC projects; the Blue Carbon Accelerator Fund (BCAF), supports blue carbon restoration and conservation projects in developing countries and helps pave the way for private-sector finance, she said. Their review and selection processes require, among other conditions, demonstrated environmental and social impacts; collaboration with government authorities and stakeholders; and a commitment to governance and land tenure rights.

At least 60 percent of agreed project budgets should benefit local stakeholders, including owners, users, and managers of a site – a commitment that would also assure investors and governments that the project is equitable, said Tim Coles, director and CEO with rePlanet, which works to drive large-scale ecological restoration and protection through private-sector funding.

   Photo by Levania Santoso/CIFOR-ICRAF

Despite strong interest, private-sector investment is not readily flowing into nature restoration nor slowing biodiversity loss, said Coles. That’s partly attributable to the high costs of ecosystem restoration investments compared with relatively cheap renewable energy credits. As well, biodiversity benefits were difficult to measure before the development of the Wallacea Trust biodiversity credit methodology, said Coles, who also founded the Wallacea Trust, which works on conservation projects.

Getting private sector investment requires projects that concentrate on carbon rich ecosystems; proper accounting for carbon in sediment; monetizing biodiversity and ensuring community benefits, he added.

Rigorous impact assessments and evidence-based policies are also essential to successful projects – particularly with regard to ecosystem services and social-economic impacts, said Pham Thu Thuy, senior scientist leading the climate change, energy and low-carbon development team with CIFOR-ICRAF. Transformative change is also necessary in land tenure policies and other governance issues, she added.

“Blue carbon might lead to transformational change..… but transformational change – land tenure, social safeguards, carbon rights, sufficient financial and social incentives, removing subsidises – is needed to enable blue carbon,” said Pham.

The event was part of CIFOR-ICRAF’s Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP) supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Global Comparative Study on REDD+ funded by Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD)

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