Authors: Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy
Coastal wetlands or ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems – mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass - provide both climate change adaptation and mitigation benefits. Blue carbon is the carbon captured by coastal ecosystems and stored in biomass and sediments. These ecosystems can sequester two to four times more carbon than terrestrial forests on an area basis. In addition to their climate regulation functions, they also provide significant benefits for biodiversity, fisheries, economic livelihoods and the resilience of coastal communities and coral reefs.
Australia has around 10 per cent of the world’s coastal blue carbon ecosystems, and we were one of the first countries to start reporting on blue carbon in our National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Australia is pursuing greater recognition and protection of coastal blue carbon ecosystems, domestically and abroad, through the International Partnership for Blue Carbon and the Ramsar Convention as well as by supporting projects under the National Environmental Science Program.
Blue Carbon Ramsar resolution
Parties to the Ramsar Convention adopted a resolution on the Conservation, restoration and sustainable management of coastal blue carbon ecosystems at the 13th Conference of the Parties in October 2018. This resolution, submitted by Australia, is intended to encourage protection of these ecosystems by providing appropriate tools and support and to connect management of wetlands with the global agenda on climate change.
The resolution includes:
- a survey to understand the needs of Contracting Parties
- an assessment of the extent, magnitude and risks to coastal blue carbon ecosystems across the Ramsar network for a sub-set of countries who express an interest in participating
- development of a method to quantify the range of benefits associated with coastal blue carbon ecosystems
- development of guidance to assist in prioritising coastal blue carbon ecosystems for management and restoration and practically managing these ecosystems.
The outputs from implementation of this resolution are expected by the end of 2021 and may assist countries in seeking funding for the restoration and ongoing management of these ecosystems.
International Partnership for Blue Carbon
The International Partnership for Blue Carbon aims to build awareness, share knowledge and accelerate action to protect and restore coastal blue carbon ecosystems for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Launched by the Australian Government at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in 2015 (COP21), the Partnership brings together governments, non-government and research organisations who are collaborating to address common challenges in governance, technical approaches and finance, and addressing the priorities of countries in regional hotspots.
The Partnership recently collaborated with the Governments of Australia, Korea and Indonesia and other partners including the Ramsar Convention, to hold side events at the 2018 climate change conference in Katowice (COP24). The Partnership continues to facilitate dialogue and technical activities among partners, and recently published two new information products and tools to assist policy makers thinking about blue carbon: a Policy Assessment Activity to guide decision making, and a factsheet on Incorporating Coastal Wetlands in Inventories.
In November 2017, the Australian Government announced funding of $6 million to support efforts to protect and manage coastal blue carbon ecosystems in the Pacific, in partnership with Fiji and other Pacific countries, regional institutions and private sector organisations.
Australian support will strengthen blue carbon expertise and data in the Pacific, support its integration into national greenhouse gas accounting and climate policy, and encourage public and private sector investment, including examining innovative approaches to financing blue carbon projects. It is also hoped that, by having long-term monitoring of coastal environments, communities will become more aware about the knock-on benefits, such as improved health of their fisheries.
Australia has committed to spend $300 million on climate change and resilience activities in Pacific Island countries from 2016-2020, including $75 million for disaster preparedness.
NESP work on mangroves/seagrasses
In Australia, the Government is supporting several projects related to blue carbon ecosystems through the National Environmental Science Program (NESP). NESP projects deliver collaborative, practical and applied environment and climate research to inform decision making and on-ground action. Environmental and marine researchers, climate scientists and Indigenous ranger groups are collaborating to identify and better understand our coastal resources.
Current projects are exploring restoration techniques for conserving coastal ecosystems and improving our understanding of the spatially extensive seagrass meadows which are habitat to one of the largest global populations of dugongs, and for green turtles, in the north-west Torres Strait. Established under NESP, the National Centre for Coasts and Climate at the University of Melbourne includes research on how coastal vegetated habitats store carbon.
NESP projects related to coastal wetlands include:
- Assessing the Gulf of Carpentaria mangrove dieback
- Working with Traditional Owners and local citizens to better manage Great Barrier Reef estuarine wetlands
- Australia’s Northern Seascape: assessing status of threatened and migratory marine species
- Underpinning the repair and conservation of Australia's threatened coastal-marine habitats
- Seagrass mapping synthesis.
Blue carbon and greenhouse gas accounting
Australia is one of a few countries to voluntarily report on human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration associated with coastal wetlands in our National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013 Wetlands Supplement. Australia reports net emissions from extraction and regeneration of mangrove forest, conversion of tidal marsh and dredging of seagrass, and continues to progressively implement the Wetlands Supplement.
The Australian Government funded a CSIRO-led project in 2016-17 to undertake a technical review of opportunities for blue carbon in the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). The report identified likely sequestration opportunities and key factors that influence carbon storage, cycling and emission in Australian mangrove, tidal marsh and seagrass ecosystems. The Department is now scoping those opportunities for ERF method development in conjunction with relevant stakeholders.
Coastal mangroves. Photo: Dragi Markovic