In a move timed to coincide with World Wetlands Day on Feb. 2, Costa Rican officials announced this week the launch of the Central American country’s National Blue Carbon Strategy.
“Blue carbon” is naturally captured by coastal wetlands and marine ecosystems, including mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes. These three ecosystems also provide habitats for biodiversity and buffer the impacts of storms on coastlines, making them excellent nature-based solutions to climate change. Costa Rica’s wetlands, including mangrove, seagrass, and salt marshes, cover more than 1,150 square miles (300,000 hectares)—an area about the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island, bigger than the country of Luxembourg, and about one-third the size of the island of Puerto Rico.
To celebrate the strategy’s launch, this week Costa Rica will host “World Wetlands Celebration Week.” Costa Rican officials will welcome the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands—an international treaty dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands—as well as representatives from the United States, Belize, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, and Colombia, to share regional experiences in wetland restoration. The celebration will also include a concert performed by students from the National University’s music school, and site visits to several of Costa Rica’s conserved wetlands, including Puntarenas Wetland and the Ramsar site at Palo Verde National Park.
Costa Rica’s National Blue Carbon Strategy provides a mechanism to implement the commitments Costa Rica made in December 2020, when the country pledged to protect and restore its coastal wetlands as part of the country’s updated nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement, the landmark international climate change treaty that came out of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. These commitments include protecting 100% of the country’s coastal wetlands, restoring priority coastal wetland areas, developing wetland management and monitoring plans, and expanding innovative conservation finance mechanisms.
The National Blue Carbon Strategy builds upon existing national and international regulatory frameworks that promote wetland conservation, coastal and marine governance, and climate change mitigation. The strategy considers ecological, economic, and human well-being by promoting the restoration, management, and conservation of blue carbon ecosystems to benefit the communities that are dependent on these ecosystems.
“The publication of the National Blue Carbon Strategy is a crucial step in fostering the institutional and stakeholder coordination necessary to effectively conserve and restore our wetlands,” said Jacklyn Rivera Wong, national wetlands program coordinator for the Government of Costa Rica. “Through such engagement we are in a far stronger position to value the full range of climate, ecosystem, and biodiversity benefits that wetlands provide—and to realize our ambitious NDC commitments.”
The strategy not only promotes traditional wetland protection measures, it also calls for Costa Rica to establish, by 2025, official guidance and criteria for the registration of blue carbon projects—and to establish financial mechanisms for effective blue carbon ecosystems management. The strategy also plans to call for Costa Rica’s Central Bank, by 2030, to develop and standardize a methodology for the economic evaluation of the benefits—including but not limited to carbon sequestration—that are provided by blue carbon ecosystems.
Notably, the strategy is in harmony with the commitments Costa Rica made in its 2020 NDC update, and provides a structure for the various government entities responsible for ensuring those commitments are met to coordinate their efforts.
“The Blue Carbon Strategy, as it builds from and strengthens national policies, is a critical step for Costa Rica to continue moving forward towards achieving its ambitious climate and biodiversity commitments,” said Ana Gloria Guzmán, executive director of Conservation International in Costa Rica. “For Conservation International it is a great honor to have supported Costa Rica in the development of this strategy, which now provides a route to ensure effective management of our coastal blue carbon ecosystems and integrates the fundamental role local communities, institutions, and stakeholders have to achieve it.”
Costa Rica is one of three countries, along with Belize and Seychelles, with which the protecting coastal wetlands and coral reefs project of The Pew Charitable Trusts originally worked to incorporate ambitious coastal wetland protections into their NDCs.
Anelise Zimmer works on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ protecting coastal wetlands and coral reefs project.