“Together, we can turn the tide”: protecting Indonesia’s blue carbon

For Indonesia, the burgeoning blue carbon market holds promise – and challenges
CIFOR-ICRAF researcher Sigit Deni Sasmito measures the diameter of mangrove trees in a study on above-ground and below-ground biomass in mangrove ecosystems in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR-ICRAF

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With around 18,000 islands and almost 100,000 kilometres of coastline, it makes sense that the archipelagic nation of Indonesia has particular interest in conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of blue carbon ecosystems.

The phrase refers to coastal ecosystems like mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass meadows, which stash outsize amounts of carbon dioxide – regularly outdoing the capacity of terrestrial forests. “The carbon storage capacity in mangrove ecosystems is about 1000 tonnes per hectare,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and leader of the recently-launched Transformative Partnership Platform: Blue Carbon Deck. “Compare that with tropical rainforest, which only stores about 300 tonnes per hectare, and you can see that the contribution of mangroves [to emission reduction] is very high.”

As such, protecting and restoring these ‘blue carbon’ spaces is increasingly recognized as critical to climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as to food security, livelihoods, and cultures. And, as Indonesia seeks to become a ‘net sink’ for forests and other land uses by 2030 (FOLU Net Sink 2030), blue carbon – of which it’s estimated to possess around 17 percent of the world’s total stocks – sits at the centre of its emission reduction strategy.

That’s why Murdiyarso and a collection of key actors, including policymakers, researchers, the private sector, and civil society representatives from Indonesia and beyond, gathered on 20th February 2024, in Bogor and online, to discuss what’s needed to develop blue carbon projects and market mechanisms within the country to match the rising interest and urgency.

“We want to make sure that the blue carbon agenda can address climate mitigation and adaptation, and engage stakeholders from the business community to interact with the communities that are in need of this,” said Murdiyarso. “And we also need to ensure that we deliver high quality science and high quality blue carbon within this process.”

Other speakers emphasized the multitude of non-carbon benefits that make conserving such ecosystems especially worthwhile. “Our mangroves form a fort to protect the coastline,” said Arif Satria, the rector of IPB University: “we don’t have walls, but we have mangroves. Without them, we’re in trouble.”

Satria also mentioned the important of getting to the root of governance issues that currently obstruct blue carbon project development, such as complex tenure and policy arrangements. His calls were echoed by Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, the vice chairman of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI), who also cited technical and scientific hurdles, challenges with community engagement and participation, climate change and environmental pressures, effective monitoring and evaluation, and legal issues.

“These are serious issues which need to be tackled,” said Harkrisnowo. “Therefore, effective implementation demands a multi-faceted approach, which is not limited to how we can best use blue carbon for economic gain, but considers how such an endeavour could improve the lives of the people in the surrounding area. In other words, the blue carbon dialogue cannot be divorced from the principles of human rights.”

Phidju Sagala, CIFOR-ICRAF research assistant, cores sediment up to three metres deep to estimate soil carbon in Sonneratia alba-dominated mangroves in Pang Pang Bay, East Java, Indonesia. Photo by Daniel Murdiyarso/ CIFOR-ICRAF

Greater clarity on the economic viability of such programmes was also called for. Alue Dohong, Indonesia’s Vice Minister of Environment and Forestry, expressed concerns that current payment rates for carbon reduction may undervalue these ecosystems, and advocated for a transparent and equitable blue carbon trading mechanism – supported by the best information that can be obtained in the time available. “We need long-term research, but we also need rapid research, because we are racing against time,” he said.

On that note, CIFOR-ICRAF’s Chief Operating Officer Robert Nasi pointed out the value of protecting existing mangrove forests from destruction and degradation. “It’s also very important to restore mangroves, but it requires you to invest quite a lot of money. The benefit-to-cost ratio is about 2:1, which is good, but conserving mangroves is even better, because it costs a lot less to realise the huge ecosystem service benefits to society that they provide: there, you have a 48:1 benefit-to-cost ratio.”

In a panel discussion on policy, Laksmi Dhewanthi – the director general of climate change at Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment and Forestry (MoEF) – honed in on challenges such as the lack of baseline data for setting targets in the ocean sector, and shared efforts are underway to address these. Dhewanthi discussed methodologies for quantifying emissions, and said that robust data and methodologies for certification are needed before engaging in carbon trading. Suwignya Utama, acting deputy for education and socialisation, participation and partnership at Indonesia’s Peat and Mangrove Restoration Agency (BRGM), shared learnings from the ‘mangrove roots’, such as the importance of meeting physical and social preconditions before starting restoration work, including obtaining clear consent from communities.

In response to these institutional commentaries, Luky Adrianto of IPB University urged more attention to the country’s uncertainty about the nature and extent of its seagrass cover, saying that more accurate mapping and validating seagrass ecosystem is urgently needed.  In addition, Muhamad Yusuf, the director of coastal and small island utilization at the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), pointed out key causes of their degradation, such as port construction. He stressed the importance of further research, and of including these ecosystems in the country’s Second Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Endah Tri Kurniawati, of the Indonesian Environment Fund (IEF), concurred on the need for increased research funding for such ecosystems, and expressed enthusiasm for helping to secure this through a blended finance approach.

In the afternoon, presenters shared more insights across three key elements of blue carbon project implementation: scientific research; institutional and social aspects; and economics, investment, and business. In concert with other project implementers, such as Blue Forest, Wetlands International, Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara, and representatives of BRGM and the business community, CIFOR-ICRAF shared its experience in developing project in South Sumatra, East Java and Bali. The attendees also heard from Yudi Amsoni, a local restoration leader from Bangka Belitung Province in Sumatra – and a fisherman who relies on the surrounding mangrove forests for his livelihood and household needs.

The scientific community – the only group that was given the chance to make presentations – updated the audience on the progress of monitoring, reporting, and verification (Rizaldi Boer, IPB University), standards and methodologies (Moritz von Unger, Silvestrum Climate Associate), spatial planning (Sigit Sasmito, National University of Singapore), seagrass and mangrove inventories (Udhi Hernawan and Virni Arifanti of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN)).”

Points that emerged regularly throughout the event included the interdisciplinary and multisectorial nature of the blue carbon sector; the dearth of seagrass studies and need for further research; the importance of addressing the underlying causes (agriculture and aquaculture) of mangrove deforestation; and the critical nature of community involvement in supporting high-quality blue carbon projects.

For more information, please contact Daniel Murdiyarso: d.murdiyarso@cifor-icraf.org 

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Topic(s) :   Blue carbon, mangroves and peatlands Climate change