Blue forests: valuable nature that contributes to food security and helps against climate and poverty
On March 8th for International Women's Day, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Norwegian Blue Forests Network (NBFN) organized a seminar on Blue Forests and Poverty – the role of the blue forest in international development: From food security to climate change. The seminar was held in coordination with NORAD’s first annual “Power Meeting for Ocean Aid” held on March 9th.
Coastal ecosystem systems with many ecosystem services
Blue forests refer to a collective term for coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass meadows, rockweed, kelp forests, and salt marshes. These blue forests are each different from one another, but they have one thing in common: they provide vital ecosystem services for humans, climate, and nature, every day.
Important questions about blue forests
The seminar discussed the potential of blue forests for supporting global food security, combating poverty, addressing pollution, and contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, all while highlighting the vital role of women in supporting global blue forests. Researchers and other actors pointed to the various challenges and opportunities that exist with the emerging interest in these coastal ecosystems.
Contributes to food security
Small-scale fishing is a core food and labor resource for more than 200 million people, globally (FAO, 2016). Blue forests ecosystems contribute to small-scale fishing, and more than half of seafood catches in developing countries come from this type of fishing. As much as 90% of the catch in small-scale fishing is for local consumption, which illustrates the value of these ecosystems for food security and poverty reduction (FAO, 2015; The World Bank, 2012).
Important carbon stocks that contribute to climate adaptation
Like terrestrial forests, blue forests absorb carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Blue forests store large amounts of carbon in their living biomass, but this carbon is released if the biomass is destroyed. Additionally, blue forests store carbon in soil and sediments in the seabed. At the climate summit in Glasgow last autumn, COP26, marine ecosystems were recognised as important carbon stocks. In addition, blue forests can protect coastal communities from erosion, storms, and sea level rise. Countries are therefore increasingly incorporating blue forests into the climate plans they submit under the Paris Agreement.
It is urgent to stop the loss
Blue forests are in decline. At least 25% of mangrove forest areas have been lost since 1980, while 29% of seagrass meadows have disappeared since the 19th century. Salt marshes have also decreased by between 25-50% over the past century, while 40-60% of kelp forests have declined in recent decades as well.
We need to scale up our efforts quickly. Knowledge of how to conserve and restore blue forests increases by the year, but we already have the knowledge and ability to act now. With the climate and biodiversity crises we are now facing, scientists, politicians, managers, industry leaders, and local communities must work together. Knowledge and action must go hand in hand.
Three options for preserving blue forests
If we want to preserve blue forests’ many ecosystem services in the future, we must stop – and ideally reverse – this trend. We can do three things: 1) protect the blue forests we have; 2) restore the blue forests we have lost; or 3) replace the blue forests we have lost. The latter is relevant when the original forests are gone and artificial blue forests are to be put in their place. A combination of all three is needed, but the most favorable and cheapest option is by far to protect the blue forests we have.
Can blue carbon help conserve blue forests?
It’s important to protect coastal ecosystems, but who’s going to pay for it? The conservation and restoration of coastal ecosystems can be expensive. Through the Paris Climate Agreement, richer countries pledged to contribute to climate finance in developing countries. REDD+, the UN’s mechanism to reduce and reverse forest loss, includes options to support protection of mangroves.
Another possibility of financing may be through the sale of carbon credits from blue forests in a voluntary carbon market. The carbon that remains trapped in blue forests that would otherwise be lost, and the carbon captured when blue forests are restored, can under certain conditions be sold as blue carbon credits.
Several developing countries are working to put in place agreements on blue carbon. Many projects for voluntary carbon markets are already underway. These projects have shown that carbon financing can help improve the condition of Blue Forests. In addition, they can contribute to local livelihoods with additional income from the carbon market, as well as finance the construction of water pumps, the purchase of school equipment and other essential services within coastal communities. However, there are several pitfalls that must be avoided to ensure these climate benefits are fully realized. It is important that such agreements are established under ethical and fair conditions developed through just processes where the rights of coastal communities, both men and women, are respected.
Inclusive processes right from the start
International development actors can help to protect blue forests and the many services they provide. To succeed, it is important to create space for inclusive arenas where diverse groups of men and women can raise their voices and be listened to. There is an abundance of local knowledge among coastal populations about resilience to climate-related crises. However, this knowledge can look very different for women and men. Therefore, it is crucial that both groups participate in decision-making processes, and that their unique knowledges and skills are recognized.