New blue carbon institute to be launched in Singapore

Ocean Science and Innovation Conservation International vice-president Emily Pidgeon (right) speaking at the launch of the International Blue Carbon Institute on Nov 14, 2022. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL RUBY

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - To help mitigate climate change and protect coastal communities, a new institute will be supporting the restoration and protection of ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrasses in South-east Asia and beyond. 

Announcing this at Singapore’s pavilion on the sidelines of the COP27 climate conference in Egypt, Amazon and Conservation International said they will be establishing an International Blue Carbon Institute, which will be housed in Singapore.

Blue carbon refers to the carbon dioxide stored in coastal and marine ecosystems like mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes that sequester and store large quantities of carbon in both plants and sediments, thus playing an essential role in the solution to global climate change.

Speaking at the institute’s launch on Monday evening, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu said the implementation of these blue carbon initiatives will allow countries to realise their climate ambition – both in mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

Mangrove forests, for example, are known to be coastal guardians and can help protect communities from heavy flooding and sea-level rise. 

“South-east Asia, with its vast stretches of mangroves and coastal ecosystems, has tremendous potential for blue carbon initiatives that will also support environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, and livelihoods and heritage of local communities,” she added.

According to a report looking at the state of the world’s mangroves, South-east Asia holds over one-third of the world’s mangrove forests. But the greatest loss of mangrove forests has also occurred in this region, largely due to factors such as the expansion of aquaculture and oil palm plantations.

With support from the Economic Development Board, the International Blue Carbon Institute will serve as a knowledge hub to build capacity, expertise and standards to develop and scale these blue carbon projects.

The institute will work with governments across South-east Asia and the Pacific to integrate the use of blue carbon into policies for mitigating climate change, and expand education for policymakers and communities on blue carbon projects.

Key tools will also be developed to create methodologies for establishing carbon credits.  Each credit represents one tonne of carbon emissions.  Establishing a mechanism can allow countries to have access to finance by protecting a mangrove forest, for example, and preventing tonnes of CO2 emissions from being released.

Dr Emily Pidgeon, who is vice-president of ocean science and innovation at Conservation International, told The Straits Times that a mangrove forest stores about 10 times the carbon per unit area compared with terrestrial forests, but these projects can be difficult to measure and track over time.

They are also often difficult to scale, as many blue carbon projects are often built around local communities. Therefore, scaling up conservation or restoration of a particular mangrove area would often have to involve working with different communities, she added.

Key to the institute would be to help people understand how important mangroves are for climate adaptation and mitigation.

In the first year, the institute will focus on areas like developing key guidance on how preserving blue carbon ecosystems can be included in a country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which refers to climate-related targets to achieve the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. 

It will also look to expand knowledge on the role of seagrasses and kelp ecosystems in sequestering carbon, which can then help in informing policies to conserve these for mitigation against climate change, said Dr Pidgeon.  

Amazon will be providing the institute with a grant of up to US$3 million (S$4.1 million) to establish and fund its operations for the first three years, to help the region build and scale credible blue carbon projects.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.