A new UK Blue Carbon Forum has been announced today to support and develop the UK’s role in protecting its precious “blue carbon” habitats, vital to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The UK Blue Carbon Forum, of which SIFT is a founding member, will bring together expert stakeholders from government, academia, NGOs, and other sectors to identify and facilitate the incorporation of blue carbon considerations into management of the UK marine environment. This will include exploring existing works alongside identifying future opportunities, ensuring consistency and collaboration to achieve meaningful outcomes.
The UK boasts an array of “blue carbon” habitats, that are known to draw in and store carbon. These habitats are diverse and complex, ranging from seagrass meadows and saltmarshes to, potentially one day, kelp and the seabed itself. As well as storing carbon and providing many other benefits, blue carbon habitats also boost biodiversity by providing shelter for young fish and benefit nearby coastal communities by buffering the coastline from storms.
Understanding and protecting these marine carbon sinks is crucial in the fight against the climate crisis, but often overlooked in climate discussions. The proof required to include blue carbon habitats in national inventories and Nationally Determined Contributions, and potentially to create a voluntary market that facilitates investment in conservation and restoration projects, requires the commitment of all stakeholders. The Forum has been created to help address this by building knowledge and understanding of these habitats, sharing ambition and supporting public understanding and directing funding, all with the aim of assisting policy.
Members of this landmark forum includes environmental and social scientists, representatives from government agencies, habitat specialists, environmental NGOs, landowners, legal representatives, and marine users to discuss and reach consensus on how best to conserve and restore blue carbon habitats.
“Over three quarters of the UK is under the sea, yet carbon accounting stops on land, creating a substantial blind spot around the carbon storage potential of UK seas,” said Dr Simon Walmsley, Chief Marine Advisor at WWF-UK and a co-host of the forum in the first year. “We are facing a climate emergency and the UK government must use every tool in the box to slash emissions and protect and restore nature. It’s imperative that this includes action to assess, manage and protect the precious blue carbon locked away in UK seas, just as we do for vital carbon sinks on land, from forests to peatlands.”
To mark the launch, the Forum has published a letter to COP26 delegates, urging the consideration of blue carbon as a priority within these discussions. With signatures from 15 organisations and several more voicing strong support for the initiative, the Forum promises to be a force for positive action.
“The Forum will provide the much-needed space for collaborative and transparent discussions around blue carbon, allowing the UK to take bold, transformative action to protect natural carbon stores based on the most robust scientific evidence available,” said Bex Lynam, Marine Advocacy Officer at the North Sea Wildlife Trusts, who is also a co-host of the forum. “Investing in blue carbon solutions will be critical to the implementation of the UK’s blue carbon strategy and reducing our emissions to net zero by 2050.”
The Forum will work to channel emerging blue carbon evidence into policy and aim to fill any research gaps. It will also investigate establishing a robust voluntary blue carbon market in the UK.
In time, the Forum aims to work with UK government to integrate the group’s findings and recommendations into the UK’s commitments to responding to climate change. “As hosts of the all-important COP26 climate summit, the UK government has the chance to show global green leadership by investing now to assess, manage and protect UK blue carbon, strengthening safeguards around marine protected areas and expanding their scope to incorporate critical blue carbon habitats,” said Dr Walmsley.
“In building this Forum, it has been important for it to be a neutral entity devoted to solving the complex challenges that lie ahead in really understanding the ocean as a climate change solution. The Forum will now elect a chair and hold a first meeting in early 2022,” said Dan Crockett of Blue Marine Foundation, which is funding the first year of the forum.