The Management of Coastal Carbon Sinks in Vanuatu: Realising the Potential

It is only comparatively recently that recognition has been given to the
body of evidence showing that coastal and marine ecosystems, such
as mangroves and seagrass meadows, also contain appreciable amounts
of carbon stored in the soil and sediment that lie beneath the surface of
the seabed.

Until recently most people considered that the
main ecosystems that lay at the heart of climate
change adaptation and mitigation activities were
forests, peatlands and perhaps some types of
soils. These ecosystems form important coastal
carbon sinks, also termed ‘blue carbon’. Damage
to and destruction of these habitats can lead to
greater emissions of carbon dioxide back into
the air and ocean per unit area than occurs from
forests and peatlands, thus increasing emissions
of this greenhouse gas, and thereby signifi cantly
contributing to the main cause of climate change.
Islands in the Pacifi c are amongst the fi rst to be
aff ected by climate change although they have
done little to contribute to the cause – contributing
less than 0.03% of current global greenhouse gas
emissions. Most islands are now experiencing
climate change impacts, whether at the coast,
on agriculture, infrastructure, water supply,
coastal and forest ecosystems, fi sheries, or on
communities and their health.
This report explores the opportunities that
recognising blue carbon could bring to Vanuatu.
Commissioned by the Government of Vanuatu
from the Commonwealth Secretariat, it sets out
the opportunities, supportive arguments, and
issues and potential barriers around incorporating
blue carbon as part of their overall climate change
adaptation and mitigation strategy. While a number
of blue carbon projects elsewhere are focused
primarily (or soley) on monetising the fi nancial value
of carbon through carbon credit schemes or similar,
the Commonwealth Secretariat believes this to
be an inherently risky strategy. Carbon prices may
vary or crash, and such an approach is often at odds
with cultural and societal values, especially in the
Pacifi c region.
This report takes a broader look at the full range
of values blue carbon can hold for Vanuatu,
describing the values of blue carbon habitats,
what is already known about such habitats in
Vanuatu, and how existing projects and initiatives
can help form a useful basis from which to
proceed. As such it may act as a blueprint for
studies elsewhere in the Pacifi c and more widely,
though the exact mix of recommendations
made here are specifi c to Vanuatu. This is due to
the relatively small area of blue carbon habitats
present, but also the strong and intimate links
through customary stewardship between local
communities and the health and wellbeing of their
surrounding environment.
The report makes 12 major recommendations
stemming from this analysis and the overall
conclusion of the net positive eff ect that would be
achieved from implementing a blue carbon initiative
in a stepwise approach, in isolation, or with other
countries in the region.
The report concludes that blue carbon presents a
new and real opportunity for Vanuatu, but cautions
that an inherently risky strategy of focussing
predominantly on monetising the potential
fi nancial value of the stored carbon should be
avoided. Indeed the overall conclusion is that the
raft of potential wider benefi ts associated with
blue carbon probably outweighs the fi nancial
value of carbon for Vanuatu. This is especially
the case due to the relatively small area of such
habitats in the islands, and acknowledging the
fundamental importance of the close ties villages
and communities, and their wellbeing, have to
such natural resources. Aligning any potential blue
carbon work on mangroves with activities already
underway through REDD+ is another important
action to be achieved early on in the process.
The clear leadership Vanuatu has already shown
on blue carbon could proceed with added impetus
and evidence if work is started to realise some of
the potential benefi ts associated with their coastal
carbon sinks.

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