By, Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation
This week I had the great good fortune to join about two dozen of our colleagues in Seattle for a briefing about the “second climate solution” also known as BioCarbon. Put simply: If the first climate solution is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and moving towards energy sources that are more sustainable and less polluting, then the second is making sure that we don’t forget about those natural systems that have so long been our allies in removing and storing excess carbon from the atmosphere.
The forests of the upper Northwest, the Eastern forests of the southeast and New England, and the Everglades system in Florida all represent habitat this is currently storing carbon and could store even more. In a healthy forest, grassland, or marshland system, there is as much long-term carbon storage in the soil as in the trees and plants. That carbon in the soil both aids in healthy growth and in helping to mitigate some of the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. It is posited that the greatest value of the world’s tropical forests is their carbon storage capacity, not their value as timber. It is also posited that the capacity of restored and improved land-based systems to store carbon may meet 15% of our carbon sequestration needs. That means we need to make sure that all of our forests, grasslands, and other habitats, in the US and elsewhere, are managed effectively so that we can continue to count on these natural systems.
The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of our carbon emissions. Blue carbon is the relatively recent term that describes all the ways in which coastal and ocean habitats store carbon. Mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and coastal marshes are all capable of storing carbon, in some cases as well as, or better than any other form of sequestration. Restoring them to their full historic coverage may be a pipe dream, and it is a powerful vision for supporting our future. The more healthy habitat we have and the more we reduce the stressors that are within our control (e.g. overdevelopment and pollution), the greater the capacity of life in the ocean to adapt to other stressors.
At The Ocean Foundation we have been working on blue carbon issues since our founding more than a decade ago. On November 9th, Blue Carbon Solutions, in partnership with UNEP GRID-Arundel, issued a report called Fish Carbon: Exploring Marine Vertebrate Carbon Services, which marks an exciting new understanding of how marine animals left in the ocean play a powerful role in the ocean’s ability to take up and store excess carbon. Here is the link to this report.
One incentive to expand restoration and protection efforts is the ability to trade funds to support these projects for certified carbon offsets of greenhouse gas emitting activities elsewhere. The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) has been established for an array of terrestrial habitats and we are partnering with Restore America’s Estuaries to complete the VCS for some blue carbon habitats. VCS is the recognized certification of a restoration process we already know is successful. Use of our Blue Carbon Calculator will net benefits that we know will be globally recognized, even as they accomplish good for the oceans now.