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Briefing: Blue Carbon

1. Outline

The UK has committed to a legally-binding target to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The natural environment has a pivotal role to play in this transition, with its unique ability to sequester and store carbon as well as providing wider climate adaptation services including biodiversity. This briefing looks at the evidence on the potential for ‘blue carbon’ contained in coastal and marine ecosystems to contribute to climate mitigation and considers the associated benefits, such as for climate adaptation.

2. Key messages

We make four recommendations:

  • Inclusion in the greenhouse gas inventory. The UK Government – specifically the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – should produce a roadmap to inclusion of saltmarsh and seagrass in the greenhouse gas inventory, which specifies a suggested level of inclusion* (i.e., Tier 1, 2 or 3), the additional data required to facilitate this, and an indicative timescale to inclusion.
  • Monitoring. Efforts to monitor, understand and analyse changes in the extent, condition and functioning of marine and coastal ecosystems should be encouraged, including an assessment of the risks these present to emissions and wider ecosystem value, and with reference to the changing climate and other pressures.
  • Protection and restoration. The UK Government and Devolved Administrations should continue to strengthen protection and restoration in marine areas, and support efforts to sustainably manage marine and coastal ecosystems, giving due consideration to their carbon value.
  • Blue carbon in land policy. The interaction of marine and coastal ecosystems with wider catchments should be recognised in the design of initiatives to replace the Common Agricultural Policy, and opportunities for use of wider policy levers to deliver better management should be pursued.

*The IPCC Wetlands supplement has guidance which indicates the minimum evidence required for greenhouse gas emissions.

‘Blue carbon’ is defined as marine and coastal carbon which can be managed to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions mitigation.