Open letter calls for the ‘blue carbon’ in ocean ecosystems to be included in climate policy
Mar 24, 2021

Open letter calls for the ‘blue carbon’ in ocean ecosystems to be included in climate policy

By EJF Staff

More than 3,000 scientists, political representatives, public figures and others have added their names to a call for the protection and restoration of ocean and coastal ecosystems to be included in climate policy. The open letter, which is led by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and supported by 66 partner NGOs, will be presented to governments around the world later in the year ahead of the COP26 climate talks.

Protecting the ‘blue carbon’ contained in thriving ocean ecosystems is a golden opportunity, the letter states. Marine stores globally contain around 49 times the amount of carbon as is in the atmosphere and more than half of biological carbon is captured by marine life.

However, it is a major risk if left unprotected, and is currently neglected in climate policy. The current annual loss of seagrass is estimated to release around 299 million tonnes of carbon every year, and for coastal wetlands that figure rises to 450 million tonnes. The UK, which has world-renowned coastal and marine habitats, has lost 90% of its seagrass meadows to pollution, dredging, bottom trawling and coastal development.

Climate, ocean and human rights experts – including Prof. Pavel Kabat, IPCC assessment reports lead author and inaugural research director of the UN World Meteorological Organization; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, human rights barrister; Dr Richard Unsworth, marine scientist and co-founder of Project Seagrass; and Prof. Brendan Godley, chair of marine conservation ­– have joined MEPs and MPs from around the world, including UK, Germany, Taiwan, Indonesia and others in calling for recognition of the critical importance of ocean and coastal ecosystems as a key tool in the fight against climate change.

The letter urges national leaders to:

1. Include specific, legally binding targets to protect and restore blue carbon environments in their updated Nationally Determined Contribution implementation plans.

2. Commit to the 30x30 ocean protection plan and designate 30% of the ocean as ecologically representative marine protected areas by 2030

3. Agree an international moratorium on deep sea mining to protect the deep sea from irreversible, large-scale harm.

This restoration and protection of our marine habitats must take place alongside ambitious decarbonisation implemented across all sectors, it cannot be used as an excuse for ‘business-as-usual’ in other sectors, the letter says.

The letter, which is now open to signatures from the public, has attracted support from public figures from all parts of society, including actor Joanna Lumley, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, wildlife film maker Gordon Buchanan and others from Olympic surfers to artists, authors and youth climate and oceans activists. Sustainable businesses, such as Triodos Bank, have also added their support.

Blue carbon is in every part of the marine ecosystem, from the coasts, where mangrove forests store up to four times more carbon per hectare than tropical rainforests and seagrass meadows store nearly 20 gigatonnes of carbon worldwide, to the open sea, where the great whales sequester huge amounts of carbon each year.

Executive Director of EJF Steve Trent, says: “The ocean gives us every second breath we take, and absorbs around a third of the CO2 we pump out. Nature-based solutions like restoration and protection of marine habitats will both help us meet global decarbonisation goals and prevent the worst impacts of global heating while also protecting the lives and livelihoods of the 3 billion people who depend on marine biodiversity around the world. Our political leaders must recognise the urgency of the climate crisis and take truly bold, transformative action to reach a global zero carbon economy.”

Professor Paval Kabat, says: “The ocean is a central, vital part of our climate system, and it must be recognised and protected as such. The capture and storage of carbon by marine ecosystems is an immensely valuable service. Tackling climate change requires a holistic 'systems approach', recognising that both our marine and terrestrial ecosystems play crucial roles, as well as every part of our society."

Human rights barrister Baroness Helena Kennedy QC says: “The climate crisis is here, with lives destroyed, epic droughts, floods and typhoons, and families and whole peoples uprooted. We see it hit the poorest and most disenfranchised hardest, with women disproportionately affected. The only way we can achieve climate justice and protect human rights is by making the most of every resource we have: restoration and protection of ocean ecosystems is a key natural solution that should play a central role.”

Note for editors

Read the letter here

Watch and embed EJF’s blue carbon films:

What is blue carbon?

Wonderful whales

Further quotes from notable signatories:

Joanna Lumley, Actor, says: “Our ocean is not only an awe-inspiring place full of wondrous wildlife, it also provides a vital life support system for the whole of humanity. Our UK government, and leaders around the world, should be creating policies to protect and restore marine ecosystems as a crucial part of effective climate policy.”

Dr Richard Unsworth, marine scientist and co-founder of Project Seagrass, says: “There is real hope: protection and restoration of habitats like seagrass meadows can be a key part of the solution in tackling climate change. But the missing piece has been the fundamental long-term support from the government. If we're going to fight climate change and face up to the associated problems of food security then we need to restore our oceans, and that involves real government support as part of a genuine green deal for the environment".

Gordon Buchanan, wildlife film maker says: “We all depend on our ocean ecosystems. The blue carbon that they store is essential for the fight against the climate breakdown. But ocean ecosystems are not given the consideration that they need in climate targets. Protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems protects wildlife, defends people from storms and, most importantly, it sucks carbon out of the atmosphere. I’m joining EJF and calling on world leaders to protect whales and mangroves and seagrasses at the crunch COP 26 talks later this year in Glasgow.”

Finlay Pringle, 13-year-old oceans and climate campaigner says: "Without healthy, cool oceans we will not have a healthy planet to live on. Oceans are at risk from climate change but they can also provide a huge part of the solution. Talking and doing nothing is not acceptable anymore. We don't want more empty promises from our politicians, we need them to face the climate emergency and take action now, rather than continuing to pass the responsibility on to future generations."

Caroline Lucas, UK Green MP says: “Marine ecosystems must be moved to the heart of international climate policy, now. We need policies and action that reflect their importance to both people and planet and give them the protection they deserve. Most importantly, this must be additional to – and not instead of – decarbonisation on land.”