Blue Carbon Initiative

Established in 2011, the Blue Carbon Initiative (BCI) works to mitigate climate change through the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of “blue” carbon coastal and marine ecosystems—mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses—around the world. Coordinated by Conservation International (CI), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO), the initiative works by engaging local, national, and international governments in order to promote policies that support coastal blue carbon conservation, management and financing, while at the same time develop comprehensive methods for assessing blue carbon stocks and emissions, and implement projects around the world that demonstrate the feasibility of blue carbon as a climate change mitigation strategy.

The Problem

Despite the acknowledgement of the importance of “blue carbon” ecosystems in mitigating climate change, many countries have yet to prepare for and implement targeted climate and carbon policies for these ecosystems alongside other coastal priorities, challenges and demands. When protected or restored, blue carbon ecosystems sequester and store carbon at significantly higher rates than terrestrial forests, providing a central role in climate change mitigation. Conversely, when degraded or destroyed, these ecosystems emit the carbon they have stored for centuries into the atmosphere and oceans and become sources of greenhouse gases.

The Solution

Island territories in particular stand to gain from blue carbon financing and protection as they sit on the frontlines of climate change, sea level rise and increased natural disasters. Additionally, many tropical island territories could qualify for blue carbon financing given the small land-to-coastal ecosystem ratio, i.e. many have low-lying ecosystems with extensive mangrove forests, tidal marshes and seagrass beds. Through scientific and policy working groups, the BCI team of experts has developed standard methodologies for measuring and analyzing blue carbon and developed a policy assessment framework to help governments prepare for and implement targeted climate and carbon policies for blue carbon ecosystems.

How it Works

Through a coalition of experts, the BCI develops and promotes management approaches based on cutting edge science that demonstrates the potential for blue carbon as a climate change mitigation strategy. Their scientific working group has developed the “Coastal Blue Carbon: methods for assessing carbon stocks and emissions factors in mangroves, tidal salt marshes, and seagrass meadows,” which provides managers, scientists and other practitioners in the field with standardized recommendations for carbon measurements and analysis. Their policy working group has developed the National Blue Carbon Policy Assessment Framework, an easy-to-apply five-step assessment framework that provides countries with a straightforward and structured methodology for integrated coastal management, clearly outlining when and whether climate and carbon related policies are appropriate, and how they can be coordinated with existing coastal regulation and policies. The BCI also helps design financial incentives and policy mechanisms for ensuring the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of coastal blue carbon ecosystems.


  • To have universal recognition of blue carbon ecosystems’ benefit for climate change mitigation and their potential for climate change adaptation.
  • To illustrate there is an enormous return on investment for protecting blue carbon ecosystems.
  • To ultimately promote the conservation of blue carbon ecosystems

Impact to Date

  • Aided the process for the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to adopt a methodology for calculating blue carbon. In 2013, the IPCC developed the Supplement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories: Wetlands.
  • Provided recommendations on how to further integrate land-use change and management activities leading to carbon sequestration in or reduced emissions from coastal ecosystems into existing policy and financing processes of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • Development of the blue carbon field manual for how to measure blue carbon using a standardized protocol. Governments around the world have utilized this manual and the manual has even been used to teach in some universities.
  • Development of the National Blue Carbon Policy Assessment Framework, which has been field tested in five different countries.
  • Promotion of greenhouse gas inventories. The BCI has assisted countries in this process, with the US being one of the first countries to conduct such an inventory. In Tampa Bay, FL, a model was created for the whole estuary to predict changes in ecosystem distribution and carbon stocks under various sea level rise and human management scenarios.


  • As new policy opportunities arise it is important to understand the science needed to make informed decisions. Bringing novel blue carbon science out of the academic community and into the policy realm, so that it reaches key decision makers, refining science needs and having productive conversations between scientists and policy makers is key.
  • How to integrate wetlands and blue carbon into existing REDD+ strategies instead of developing a new tool. REDD+ represents countries’ efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
  • With climate change being such a large issue, with a multitude of priorities, there is an ongoing challenge to justify why additional resources are needed for blue carbon ecosystems, which are relatively small ecosystems.

Next Steps

  • Providing guidance for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). NDCs are individual countries’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. By integrating blue carbon into their NDCs, countries could significantly increase their ambitions, no matter their data capacity level.
  • Investigating into the potential of kelp as a climate change mitigation strategy. The BCI and partners will be researching how to build the science case either for or against kelp as a climate mitigation solution.
  • Expanding the science around emissions for land use change. As countries begin to include blue carbon in their greenhouse gas inventories and climate mitigation plans, it will be important to have a better understanding of the risk posed to blue carbon stocks and related emission rates associated with various land-use changes.

For More Information

This information was based on an interview conducted with Jennifer Howard of Conservation International, member of the Blue Carbon Initiative.

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