World-first blue carbon estimates in time for COP26 summit

Media release

01 November 2021

As the 26th climate change Conference of the Parties (COP26) summit begins in Glasgow, a timely paper by Deakin Professor of Marine Sciences, Dr Peter Macreadie, has been published in the prestigious journal, Nature Earth and Environment.

‘Blue Carbon as a Natural Climate Solution’ quantifies the role of coastal and ocean ecosystems in mitigating climate change by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which is crucial for the ongoing survival of the planet.

For the first time, Professor Macreadie, Head of the Blue Carbon Lab at Deakin University, has collaborated with other blue carbon experts to release world-first estimates of the global potential for using blue carbon as a natural climate solution. The authors found that blue carbon could reduce global emissions by 3%, which is regarded as globally significant.

"Blue carbon ecosystems are highly productive, coastal ecosystems that are essential for climate mitigation and adaptation," said Professor Macreadie. "Natural climate solutions refer to actions that restore and conserve nature to increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions."

Originally, natural climate solutions were based almost exclusively on green carbon ecosystems, such as terrestrial forests. However, there has been an increased appreciation of blue carbon ecosystems, including seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, tidal marshes, and potentially seaweed beds, since 2009.

More than a decade on, Professor Macreadie is hopeful the COP26 Glasgow summit will increase global commitment to restoring and protecting blue carbon ecosystems as a natural climate solution.

"Climate change is surely the greatest ever challenge we have faced as a species. I think that if we are to stop climate change, it will come down to our leaders understanding how the decisions they make – whether it be at COP26 or around the boardroom table – can impact climate change."

In addition to storing carbon, blue carbon ecosystems provide co-benefits: they provide nursery grounds for juvenile fish that underpin our fisheries; they bolster biodiversity, and they protect our shorelines from erosion and extreme weather events. "We get a lot of bang for our carbon buck when it comes to blue carbon," said Professor Macreadie.

Although the potential of blue carbon is clear, Professor Macreadie says its success as a nature-based solution will depend on societal actions. "We have a small window of opportunity where we still have time to act, and blue carbon must be a part of the solution."

"Restoring blue carbon ecosystems should be a key focus of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration,” said Professor Macreadie. “Emerging blue carbon markets should aim to incorporate the value of co-benefits into financial frameworks to assist with the investments required for restoration and conservation."

The paper, 'Blue Carbon as a Natural Climate Solution', can be viewed in full here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s43017-021-00224-1

Professor Peter Macreadie is available for interviews.

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Tania Palich
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