Blue Carbon is defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “all biologically-driven carbon fluxes and storage in marine systems that are amenable to management”. Much of our understanding of blue carbon dynamics is from studies of vegetated coastal blue carbon ecosystems (CBCE) such as tidal marshes, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows. These coastal habitats, through drawdown and carbon storage, can potentially mitigate climate change. At the same time, their deterioration and eventual loss can result in significant release of CO2 into the atmosphere. In addition, CBCEs support a wealth of biodiversity, providing us with services such as coastal protection from storms and nursery grounds for fish.
However, CBCEs are increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise and human activities such as coastal development, overfishing and pollution. Other marine ecosystems (e.g., macroalgal beds, unvegetated mud flats, water columns and others) are essential for capturing, fixing and transferring CO2 to long-term storage in sediment and deep ocean water bodies. Measuring and accounting for this carbon have proved complex, with significant scientific uncertainties related to transfer routes, the quantities stored and the accumulation rates. Although macroalgae are included in the IPCC definition, these habitats are not formally included in national GHG inventory reporting due to the lack of documentation that these ecosystems store and sequester carbon.
In Europe, gaps remain in our understanding of local and regional scale variations in carbon stocks and fluxes, the geographic distribution of CBCEs, and CO2 and non-CO2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Key areas of research and action include future threats (e.g., climate change and associated sea-level rise), mitigation pathways, optimum management interventions and their implementation, incorporation of blue carbon into national GHG inventories, building co-benefits into policies, the relevance of blue carbon for coastal communities, enhanced blue carbon in aquaculture, national or European blue carbon standards, and socioeconomic impacts.
The Joint Action will contribute to filling the key knowledge gaps in habitat extent by providing novel and dedicated spatial products to support carbon removal action and policies, e.g., CO2 storage potential maps. This will comprise a cooperative, interdisciplinary approach, enabling interactions between the quadruple helix of scientists, policymakers, the private sector, and coastal communities. In addition, it will promote the generation of information by addressing key knowledge gaps through joint calls between JPI Oceans Members. Finally, through knowledge exchange via the platform and integrative and interdisciplinary research, the Joint Action can enable the development and implementation of policies on management interventions with a view not only to climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience but also biodiversity, coastal protection, and co-benefits to coastal communities.
The JPI Oceans Joint Action will facilitate the development of enhanced European collaboration in addressing knowledge gaps about blue carbon.
The Knowledge Hub will:
- Establish a multidisciplinary network to enable knowledge sharing and best practices,
- Enable a platform/database that is accessible and usable for various stakeholders that includes a database of habitat extent and vulnerability and a repository of carbon stock and sequestration rate data,
- Endeavour to make the data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperability and Reusable),
- Summarise the state of the art, including gap identification.
The Joint Call Research Phase will:
- Address key knowledge gaps as identified through the Knowledge Hub,
- Result in the generation of new knowledge and the advancement of science,
- Contribute to fulfilling existing policies, enhanced management, and the formulation of new transformative or modification of current policies and regulations as may be required,
- Facilitate knowledge transfer on current political goals linked to climate action to empower citizens and benefit local coastal communities through enhanced conservation and restoration.
The integration of CBCEs into policy and management frameworks is critically important and the blue carbon concept promises a low regret, nature-based solution with co-benefits for climate, people and nature. Nature-based solutions, including the conservation and re-establishment of CBCE, are integral to reaching the climate targets laid out by the Paris Agreement. In addition, a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy is the Nature Restoration law which calls for binding targets to re-establish degraded ecosystems, including those with the most potential to capture and store carbon and prevent the impact of extreme climate events on such habitats. Enhancing of CBCEs requires a collective approach, where the JPI Oceans Joint Action on Blue Carbon aims to reduce uncertainties, share knowledge and develop the management tools required to optimise the climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience benefits.