Blue Carbon an opportunity for Africa at Cop18?

Photo © Romy Chevallier/ SAIIA
Image: The negotiation plenary room at COP17 last year, awaiting the arrival of delegates

International climate change talks will kick off in Qatar today (26 November).

The next two weeks will witness intense negotiations at the eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18) between the UN and leaders from around the globe about the future of the climate change regime. The COP 18 meeting will seek to make further incremental progress towards a universal legally binding agreement.

The agenda for the next two weeks is very broad, but one item due to be discussed that should be of particular interest to Africa is the Blue Carbon debate. A new SAIIA Policy Briefing entitled Blue Carbon: The Opportunity of Coastal Sinks for Africa advises that African delegates to the meeting take note of the opportunities emanating from a discussion on a possible Blue Carbon framework.

Although the bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have developed strategies and mechanisms to enhance terrestrial ‘Green Carbon’ sinks such as forests, less attention has been given to marine and coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marsh ecosystems. Their capacity to sequester large amounts of carbon has earned them the term ‘Blue Carbon’ sinks.

A theme that gained momentum at COP 17 in Durban and Rio +20, Blue Carbon is now recognised as playing an integral role in the mitigation of climate change. The international policy community is now looking beyond terrestrial forests to include other important ecosystems into the discussions.

The carbon sequestration benefits of these ecosystems are being increasingly noted and taken account of – particularly by those countries with substantial amounts of coastal vegetations.

African countries, home to large portions of the world’s mangrove forests, can use these opportunities to attract financial resources back into the conservation of these vital ecosystems.

These Blue Carbon ecosystems are being degraded and destroyed at a rapid pace along the world’s coastlines, resulting in globally significant emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and ocean and contributing to climate change.

There is growing evidence that the management of coastal Blue Carbon ecosystems, (through avoided emissions, conservation, restoration and sustainable use) is an important tool in global natural carbon management. Scientific understanding of carbon sequestration and the potential emissions from coastal ecosystems is now sufficient to develop effective carbon management policy and conservation incentives.

COP 18 will seek to continue discussions on the Blue Carbon policy framework, discussing a number of innovative tools to protect and emphasize the importance of protecting marine and coastal ecosystems.

It is an opportune time for African countries to contribute to the formulation of a Blue Carbon policy framework. Countries with long coastlines and ample coastal vegetation should push for global agreements where the value of carbon within coastal ecosystems is included in the accounting of ecosystem services.