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Is it feasible to use blue carbon to finance mangrove conservation in Trinidad and Tobago?

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Mangrove forest image via Canva Pro.

By Rahanna Juman

This story was first published on the Cari-Bois Environmental News Network. An edited version appears below as part of a content-sharing agreement.

A blue carbon credit system is being piloted in Trinidad and Tobago. Led by the country’s Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the project aims to design a high-quality blue carbon credit scheme to improve the digital mapping, monitoring, reporting, and verification of ecosystem services. It also hopes to promote the management and ownership of natural capital in order to create practical opportunities for generating revenue and enhancing livelihoods.

Marine ecosystems — particularly tidal marshes, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests — absorb and store carbon within biomass and soils. Commonly referred to as “blue carbon” ecosystems because of their relevance to the global carbon cycle, these marine ecosystems provide climate mitigation benefits and a range of other ecosystem services that support coastal livelihoods and adaptation to climate change.

Studies have shown that mangroves absorb and store carbon at higher rates when compared to other ecosystems. As such, mangrove forests are among the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the tropics and some of the most efficient long-term natural carbon stores.

Given their high sequestration rates, experts consider mangroves to play a major role in regulating the global carbon flux. On average, they have a mean whole-ecosystem carbon stock around 2.5 to five times higher than the mean ecosystem carbon stock found in temperate, boreal, and upland tropical forests.

Blue carbon ecosystems in Trinidad and Tobago

Initial estimates show that mangrove forests in Trinidad and Tobago store at least 1,118,630.99 tonnes of carbon.

When mangrove forest carbon in Trinidad was compared to terrestrial forest carbon, the mangroves stored 44 percent more carbon per hectare than terrestrial forests — and in Tobago, data showed that they stored 61 percent more carbon per hectare.

Despite their critical role, however, there is an increasing loss of mangrove forest systems because of ill-advised development and other activities, including pollution, coastal development, extractive activities, unsustainable aquaculture, agricultural practices, and intense weather events.

Between 1990 and 2020, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated a decline of 1.04 million hectares of mangroves. In Trinidad alone, mangrove ecosystems declined from 7,345.54 hectares in 2007 to 6,941.68 in 2020.

Investing in blue carbon to protect mangroves

The loss of mangroves directly results in a decline of carbon sequestration and, since their carbon stocks are released when degraded, a potential increase in carbon emissions.

Deforestation, forest degradation, and changes in land use account for the second largest anthropogenic source of carbon emissions — approximately eight to 20 percent. Mangrove loss is an important contributor to these emissions, as mangroves are carbon-rich ecosystems.

Over the past several years, mangrove conservation has been promoted with increased vigour in global climate negotiations because of its potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Given the significant storage potential of blue carbon, the blue carbon credit market is experiencing growing momentum.

Supported by Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, the carbon credit market has been identified as a key mechanism to create an economic incentive for reducing greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively, and there is recognition that these carbon markets can bridge the shortfall for countries in financing the climate action goals listed in their National Determined Contributions (NDC).

For example, Trinidad and Tobago’s NDC (2018) includes provisions to pursue the development of a feasible carbon trading scheme aimed at reducing emissions in the industrial sector. In fact, 83 percent of NDCs intend to use these carbon finance mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

Trinidad and Tobago’s blue carbon credit scheme

Internationally, the carbon market struggles with issues like double counting GHG emission reductions and greenwashing. As a subset of the carbon market, the blue carbon market faces similar challenges.

With growing corporate demand, there is a need to verify these credits and ensure they are of high quality, which places significant emphasis on the livelihoods supported by these ecosystems.

Coupled with the desire for high-quality credits, there is a need for a robust Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) system to ensure environmental integrity under these market mechanisms. This collaborative initiative aims to simulate a high-quality blue carbon credit scheme for Trinidad and Tobago that invites participation from public sector entities, communities, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, and investors from both the local and international private sector.

The development of a digital MRV system is a priority, with platforms being made available to register the carbon credits generated from rehabilitation projects and facilitate blue carbon knowledge-sharing events in both islands.

The IMA has also been conducting research to assess carbon capture and storage in mangroves, seagrass biomass and soils. They are particularly looking to see if these ecosystems can serve as an offset against carbon dioxide emissions from industry, which can create an opportunity to explore developing a high-quality blue carbon credits programme.

If successful, the development of such a scheme has the potential to support Trinidad and Tobago in meeting its NDC targets, developing its blue economy, and conserving its blue carbon ecosystems.

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