MANGROVE CARBON PROJECTS: KEY CONSIDERATIONS
Eligibility for carbon accreditation.
The concept of additionality is core to understanding how a blue carbon project is eligible for producing certified offsets – or not. For project activities to qualify as additional, project managers must prove that their claimed emissions reductions would not have occurred without the project’s intervention. To prove additionality, emissions must be measured against the baseline emissions flux of the project area or the “business as usual” model. The project’s interventions should increase the carbon sequestration in the project area above the baseline scenario, thereby proving additionality.
For example, if a seagrass bed were in poor health due to destructive fishing practices, and a project intervenes by funding the provision of new more appropriate fishing gear, and then restores the lost seagrass, then the project site is additional as the project is directly responsible for halting destruction and the subsequent restoration. The amount of carbon sequestered is increased compared to what was previously happening in the area. Where this theoretical project enabled a change in fishing practice, they haven't simply redirected the damaging activity to another location. Conversely, acquiring management rights to a seagrass bed that is not being damaged, is not reduced in area, or is not under real and immediate threat does not allow the new owner to claim additionality as the ecosystem is likely to remain healthy and functioning without any additional intervention on their part.
The Plan Vivo Approved Approach: Demonstrating Additionality is an example of how standards approach additionality in nature-based offsetting projects.
Additionality is proved through three different project types: avoided deforestation, reforestation, and afforestation. As we learned above, mangrove forests store and sequester vast amounts of carbon. The project types either increase the amount of carbon stored through planting or ensure no additional carbon is emitted. Reforestation and afforestation entail the former by replanting trees but differ in the landscape they are replanted on. Reforestation replants trees in areas previously inhabited by forest.
Conversely, afforestation includes planting trees in an area not previously covered by forests, such as a mudflat or other habitat type. Avoided deforestation ensures no additional carbon is emitted into the atmosphere by preventing forest degradation from occurring despite intentions to do so. For example, a mangrove forest planned to be cut down by real estate developers but is prevented from being demolished. In this case, carbon that would have been emitted by destroying the habitat but was prevented through protective measures.
Restoring mangroves is more than simply planting seedlings in straight lines. Although often pictured in press reports and accompanied by attention-grabbing headlines counting how many trees have been planted, these activities are prone to high rates of seedling loss or death within weeks to months of planting. In contrast, for credits to be issued, carbon offset projects must be tightly monitored and reported on for a twenty- to thirty-year period, with reports verified by third-party experts every few years. Project managers need to consider the commitment to maintain and monitor the site for this length of time, and how to ensure project permanence - that the site remains in good health and functioning - after the crediting period has ended. Restoration interventions must therefore be well-planned and will be unique to each site.
Fair Carbon endorses Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR), which incorporates mangrove restoration with community stewardship to combat historical and current mangrove loss. CBEMR requires that natural ecological processes and anthropogenic stressors are considered to mitigate their impact and regenerate mangrove forests effectively. It focuses on creating a model of the historical composition and hydrology of the ecosystem, identifying the drivers of degradation or loss, and making targeted interventions to correct them. Natural regeneration can then occur, assisted by limited planting in key locations, for example, to stabilise the banks of a recreated channel or to accelerate recolonisation.
Mangrove Action Project is the leading provider of CBEMR training.
Carbon baselines & soil carbon modeling
Carbon stocks and storage rates in mangroves can be highly variable. While default values are useful for initial modeling, measuring and monitoring carbon stocks in situ will be required as the project progresses, and must align with the strict technical methods accepted by the accrediting standard. Measuring and monitoring above-ground biomass carbon is comparatively simple, and satellite imagery can be used to model trends in mangrove area change over time. Accepted methodologies which incorporate sediment carbon are more challenging, as below-ground carbon storage and accretion will require measuring. For smaller sites, the additional costs in time and expertise to incorporate sediment carbon may exceed the additional offset income generated. Module 2: Viability provides guidance on making the decision to base offsets on above-ground biomass, above- and below-ground biomass, or biomass and sediment carbon, which accreditation standard is best suited for the proposed site and purpose, and selecting the appropriate methodology for each.
Mangroves as biodiversity hotspots.
Mangroves are widely understood as essential nurseries for juvenile fish species that are important for subsistence or commercial fisheries. The biodiversity of terrestrial mammals, reptiles, insects, and birds are less understood despite their richness in mangrove forests.
Surveying which species are present on mangrove conservation sites – whether aiming to produce offsets or not - should be considered essential, as the presence of some animals may have a profound effect on project aims and design, especially where the provision of alternative livelihoods is required. For example, the discovery of endangered animal species on-site may either render ecotourism inappropriate or provide a unique selling point. Furthermore, mangrove projects which preserve or restore habitat for critically endangered species will have an advantage when applying for funding and may be able to command a higher price per credit. Our mangrove biodiversity predictor tool (beta test version) maps where species of conservation importance might be found and links to survey techniques are provided.
Technical Considerations Summary
- Restoration projects should incorporate the unique characteristics of their site for planting seedlings and consider the commitment of site monitoring
- In-situ carbon monitoring must align with the chosen technical standard and is required before the project can progress. Monitoring varies across sites and can pose technical challenges and additional costs if sediment carbon measurements are needed.
- Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration benefits projects through holistic restoration and community stewardship of the land.
- Mangroves contain large amounts of biodiversity that can positively impact project sites through unique selling points and a higher value on their carbon. Biodiversity must be considered to determine the appropriate or inappropriate activities for a given site
Legal & Political Considerations.
Resolving land tenure:
Mangroves exist at the interface of land and sea and are at least partially inundated by the tide. As such, they may be classified as terrestrial or marine ecosystems, or neither, or both. It is not unknown for mangroves to be subject to overlapping, contradictory or unclear legislation concerning ownership and management rights, or which government body has jurisdiction over management decisions. Where clear legislation exists in theory, it may not be enforced or may differ in practice as mangroves are often treated as a common resource regardless of ownership.
In some locations, land tenure may be resolved simply by purchasing land or acquiring rights to operate via aquaculture leases or logging concessions. In others, mangroves may be state-owned and residents or other stakeholders may have pre-existing usage or access rights. It should also be noted that in some locations private ownership only extends to the high water line, while below this point the area may be considered seabed and under state ownership.
Legal operating frameworks:
In some countries, clear land tenure rules exist but there may not yet be a precedent for trading nature-based offsets on the voluntary carbon market, or the right to own and trade carbon storage services may be a grey area. Carbon stocks may also be counted towards a country's Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and be considered ineligible for sale to avoid double counting. Our platform records where successful blue carbon projects exist and, as data becomes available, examples of legal operating frameworks will be described in later modules.
For countries without legislation either allowing or prohibiting trade of nature-based carbon offsets, it should not be assumed that operating in a grey area or policy void is an acceptable or sensible way forward. As interest in blue carbon increases, the current policy gap in many countries is likely to be closed and may leave projects stranded and unable to meet a financial or social commitment. This position presents an unacceptable level of risk to many funding sources and also may result in projects being unable to access accreditation. Clarifying official permission to sell offsets should be considered essential and may require extended consultation with relevant government bodies.
While an in-depth appraisal of the laws and policies affecting mangrove carbon projects in 117 different countries is neither appropriate nor practical, Fair Carbon has identified a set of progress markers to help project proponents assess whether enabling legislation may exist in their country of operation. This data map is currently limited to a sample of 20 countries and will be presented in draft format to registered users only.
Legal and Political Considerations Summary
- Mangroves exist in a legally ambiguous zone at the junction of land and sea and may exist in overlapping jurisdictions and legislations
- The right to own or sell carbon does not exist in every country or is unclear. In countries without explicit carbon ownership rules, pursuing nature-based carbon offsetting can potentially result in a lack of accreditation or future legislation revoking the right. Consultation with the relevant government bodies for permission is essential before proceeding with a project
Will it be profitable?
Despite the hype surrounding blue carbon, only a handful of accredited and operational projects exist. Financial challenges play a crucial role. Several existing projects have been set up to prove the feasibility of blue carbon projects in different geographies, not necessarily to make a profit - they may operate at a financial loss over the project's lifetime. These are heavily funded cooperative efforts between research institutions, carbon standards, local community NGOs, large international NGOs, and project developers or consultancies with a high level of expertise. Extant commercial projects rely on scale to overcome initial high research, design, and registration costs and uncertainty of return on investment. Many of the next generations of projects will need to be designed and operated within tighter budgetary constraints. While Fair Carbon provides guides and supporting materials, carbon projects still need team members with the experience and skills to apply technical and social guidelines and produce the required documentation. It should not be assumed that blue carbon sites will automatically be a lucrative proposition. The module 1 guide to producing a pre-feasibility assessment aims to establish whether income from producing carbon offsets is a viable option for your site - before committing funds to a full viability survey or engaging with stakeholders.
Funding A Blue Carbon Project.
The time lag between initiating a blue carbon project, finalising the technical design, establishing a legal operating framework, completing consultations with local stakeholders, and setting up alternative livelihoods can be months to years. This process is often followed by 1-3 more years before the full offset potential can be realised and the maximum volume of credits issued. Costs of operation and registration are also heavily frontloaded.
With the current high demand for blue carbon offsets, numerous funding options exist to fill this gap, but they often come with a catch. Startup grants with no provisions are few and competition is high. Deals offered by project developers include offering a fixed price per future credit, which, with credit prices predicted to rise, leaves site owners receiving a fraction of potential income. Other deals include developers covering project design and/or implementation costs in return for a percentage of credit income.
Fair Carbon provides links to reputable funding sources, is able to indicate potential red flags, and in some limited cases may be able to match projects to reputable investors or developers. It should be noted we are not a source of project funding ourselves, nor are we in a position to offer detailed legal advice on individual funding deals.
Financial Considerations Summary
- There are many financial barriers to blue carbon projects, and projects in existence were not set up to make a profit. New projects will require technical and social expertise before proceeding and will need to operate on a constrained budget.
- The process of developing a project site can span months to years with high associated throughout the project's lifetime. Grants can provide assistance but may come with caveats or are highly competitive.
Stakeholder consultation & Inclusive governance
While some carbon project sites may be located on privately owned land without other users to consider, coastal areas are heavily populated, and mangroves may be utilised for food, fuel, building materials, economic activities, cultural activities, or have other significance. Critical questions to ask include whether local people currently use your proposed project site, how it is used, is the usage sustainable, if site use needs to change to meet conservation goals, and how it can be done fairly. Solutions need to be developed with local users, not imposed upon them by an external third party.
Fair Carbon presents examples of inclusive governance structures from extant projects and includes case studies and commentary on consultation, decision-making, and feedback processes written by guest authors with personal experience.
In cases such as the degraded seagrass meadow described at the beginning of this section, cessation of fishing practices that are degrading the target habitat is required. Project managers must consider both the negative economic impact this would have on fishers and that the damaging activity may be displaced to another site. For the desired behavioural changes to be both effective and fair, project managers will need to work together with the fishing community to develop viable “alternative livelihoods”. Alternative livelihoods replace, or better, improve on the income lost by closing that area to fishing, which ensures the undesired activities are effectively reduced. In the theoretical example we gave, a different type of fishing gear was provided - no loss of income, no displacement of damage. Real-world examples in mangrove projects include establishing woodlots to replace the building materials and wood fuel formerly sourced from the mangrove conservation area.
Socio-economic Considerations Summary
- Mangroves are heavily utilized by coastal communities and projects should not proceed without considering how the proposed site is used, the current sustainability of practices, how conservation goals can be met, and how to approach the project equitably
- Solutions must be completed with local users or through the development of alternative livelihoods to improve income due to project activities
The most comprehensive resource for blue carbon to date, A Blue Carbon Primer draws on more than 100 experts in the fields of policy, carbon accounting, and project development. While not directed specifically at the creation of blue carbon offsetting projects, it still contains a wealth of relevant information including case studies from extant coastal conservation projects.
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