Coastal habitats are under increasing threat of destruction through human activities. These habitats store large amounts of carbon in their living vegetation and soil; when disturbed, this stored carbon—increasingly known as coastal blue carbon—can be released in the form of greenhouse gases. Global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, principally emission trading systems or “carbon markets,” could represent a potentially large economic incentive to convince the holders of coastal ecosystems to avoid habitat conversion and thus lessen the likelihood that ecosystems will change from greenhouse gas sinks to sources. Like payments for REDD+, incentives to retain rather than emit blue carbon would preserve biodiversity as well as a variety of other ecosystem services at local and regional scales. Research at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions examines the economic and scientific challenges that need to be addressed in order to determine whether payments for blue carbon may one day help conserve mangroves, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes.
The Nicholas Institute recognizes that this research can make a difference only if it is effectively communicated to policymakers and other key stakeholders. With that in mind, it has prepared different products for different audiences. Reports and papers that communicate current understanding of blue carbon have been written for scientists and economists. Key messages have been distilled for governments and private sector decision makers who can mobilize resources to protect blue carbon.
Researchers are also engaged with international policy processes, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to inform them as they determine how best to devise global policies and institutions for blue carbon protection.