Pew Launches Blue Carbon Network to Help States Address Climate Change

Effort seeks to leverage coastal habitats’ greenhouse gas capture and storage capacity, as well as adaptation benefits

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Pew Launches Blue Carbon Network to Help States Address Climate Change
Wilimington, North Carolina sunset
The sun sets over wetlands near Wilmington, North Carolina. Such coastal habitats sequester carbon and contribute to ecosystem and community resilience. North Carolina is poised to be among the first states to account for carbon captured in submerged aquatic vegetation—such as seagrass—and other coastal wetlands in its greenhouse gas inventory.
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Coastal wetlands—including seagrass beds, salt marshes, and tidal forested wetlands—can help to protect coastal communities from severe storms and flooding. Because they are also incredibly efficient at capturing and storing carbon, these coastal habitats are natural allies in the fight against climate change. Such carbon stores found in coastal and marine ecosystems are known as blue carbon. Recognizing the climate mitigating role blue carbon can play, The Pew Charitable Trusts began working to protect and restore coastal wetlands in 2018, engaging with agencies, researchers, and stakeholders around the country and the world. In the U.S., our focus is with states since they largely set the policies governing their coastlines.

As states set greenhouse gas reduction targets (see the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions’ state climate policy maps) and develop policies to reach them, one pathway under consideration is leveraging the potential of forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands—known collectively as natural and working lands—to help achieve those targets. Research shows these ecosystems, when healthy, can sequester carbon over long periods of time. When degraded, these landscapes emit these stores of carbon. States are just beginning to work coastal ecosystems into natural and working lands strategies that aim to reduce emissions and enhance carbon storage through improved land use.

To help create stronger connections among state agencies, practitioners, researchers, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on blue carbon, Pew is launching the Blue Carbon Network, with these goals:

  • Provide experts and state officials with opportunities to discuss blue carbon science through convenings, resource materials, and information sharing.
  • Connect local, state, and national partners to share information and best practices related to blue carbon policy and management.
  • Troubleshoot challenges in coastal habitat data and mapping.

What will the Blue Carbon Network do?

The network will serve as a forum and clearinghouse for numerous topics, such as:

  • Finding data and approaches for developing greenhouse gas inventories for state coastal wetlands, including national resources available to states and how to overcome common challenges like incorporating seagrass and other submerged aquatic vegetation into those inventories.
  • Understanding and addressing the effect of sea-level rise on carbon that is sequestered and stored in coastal landscapes.
  • Setting realistic yet meaningful coastal habitat conservation and restoration targets within state climate mitigation strategies.
  • Developing tools that can help coastal managers better assess the blue carbon impact of restoration activities.
  • Navigating challenges and opportunities, such as financing and monitoring, for mainstreaming blue carbon into coastal habitat management.

To date, Pew has collaborated with the Oregon Coastal Management Program, Silvestrum Climate Associates, and researchers from the Pacific Northwest Blue Carbon Working Group to develop a first-ever, state-level blue carbon inventory and specific policy-level recommendations for maintaining and enhancing carbon storage in Oregon’s estuaries. These proposals have been incorporated into the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s Natural and Working Lands and Waters proposal. And in North Carolina, Pew is working with researchers and officials to build the state’s first greenhouse gas inventory for coastal wetlands. This inventory will likely be among the first in the world to include seagrass in addition to other tidally influenced wetlands such as marsh.   

Who should join?

Managers, experts, and others interested in connecting coastal habitat conservation and restoration with climate strategies would benefit from joining the network. Potential network members include:

  • State employees involved in natural and working lands strategies and greenhouse gas inventory development.
  • Researchers and academics interested in connecting blue carbon research to state climate policy efforts.
  • Staff of NGOs and others involved in advancing nature-based strategies for climate mitigation, or linking adaptation efforts with mitigation.
  • Individuals or groups working on site-based blue carbon projects interested in contributing to broader state policy efforts.

Those interested in the Blue Carbon Network may click this link for more information and to join.

Alex Clayton is a principal associate and Sylvia Troost is a senior manager who work on incorporating blue carbon into climate action plans for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ conserving marine life in the United States project.

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Coastal wetlands, including salt marshes, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows, are among the most productive—and threatened—ecosystems on the planet.