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What Exactly Is Blue Carbon?

Context

  • Environmental experts have suggested that if India is to emerge as a global climate leader, it must adopt blue-carbon solutions.
  • India’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2070 necessitates a thorough examination of all blue carbon interventions.

Relevance:

GS Paper-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth; Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Mains Question

Blue carbon initiatives have the potential to transform the fight against climate change and global warming from a symbolic to a significant agent. Analyze. (150 Words)


What exactly is Blue Carbon?

Blue Carbon can be found in nature-based solutions such as blue carbon ecosystems such as mangroves, tidal and salt marshes, seagrasses, and so on.

What are the benefits of blue carbon for climate change mitigation and adaptation?

  • A large 7,500+ kilometer-long coastline: o India could currently have 5,000 square kilometres of mangroves, 500 square kilometres of seagrasses, and 300 to 1400 square kilometres of salt marshes.
    • They cover about 0.5 percent of the total land area of the country.
    • Despite their small size, coastal systems can sequester carbon at a much faster rate and for millions of years.
  • Mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes can capture up to 20 times more carbon dioxide (CO2) than any other terrestrial ecosystem, including boreal and tropical forests.
  • The total carbon sequestration potential of coastal ecosystems has been estimated to be around 700 million tonnes of CO2, or about 22 percent of India’s annual carbon emissions.
  • Coastal ecosystems offer numerous climate adaptation benefits, including: o Protection from hurricanes and sea-level rise.
    • Avoid shoreline erosion.
    • Maintain coastal water quality.
    • Provide a variety of ecosystem services, including food security, livelihood (small-scale fisheries), and biodiversity.

What are the barriers to utilising blue carbon potential?

  • Erosion of coastal ecosystems as a result of: o Rapid urbanisation o Land conversion to agriculture and aquaculture o Extreme weather events
  • The journal ‘Nature’ refers to India as a ‘blue carbon wealth recipient country,’ rather than a ‘donor’ country.
    • According to the journal, India’s blue carbon resources are underutilised.
  • India’s ‘Long-Term Low-Carbon Development Strategy’ document, which was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), does not emphasise blue carbon opportunities.
  • The lack of a clear path for the restoration of blue carbon storage assets could be a major source of future carbon emissions.

How can India energise blue carbon initiatives?

  • Lack of a proper strategy: There is currently a lack of emphasis on blue carbon in India’s low-carbon strategy.
    • India must undergo a “sea change” in its perception of its coastal ecosystems as a strategic carbon sequestration reserve.
  • India has turned a blind eye to the potential of blue carbon.
    • India’s previous activities under its afforestation and reforestation initiatives have only included minor aspects of coastal ecosystem restoration and rejuvenation.
    • The need is to earmark and unify such projects under the broader umbrella of ‘blue-carbon’ to keep up with the evolving nature of global climate policy.
  • Establish a National Institute for Blue Carbon: o Until now, the Government of India has relied solely on homogeneous literature on blue carbon, often written by a small number of subject matter experts.
    • It is necessary to create, compile, and formalise these databases in order to institutionalise the blue carbon work stream.
    • India must undergo a “sea change” in its perception of its coastal ecosystems as a strategic carbon sequestration reserve.
  • Learn from other successful initiatives: o To establish a blue-carbon sector organisation, India must learn from specialised peer organisations such as the National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE), National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE), National Institute of Bioenergy (NIBE), and others.
    • The new institute can work closely with the Indian Meteorological Department, the National Institute of Oceanography, the National Botanical Research Institute, and IIT Bombay’s National Center of Excellence in Carbon Capture and Utilization to create the conditions for this sector to take off.
  • Promote the development of necessary standards, codes, and peer-review frameworks for evaluating blue carbon solutions.
  • Human resource skilling activities are required in India:
    • Incubate new businesses.
    • Foster innovation clusters that prevent coastal ecosystem degradation.
    • Encourage initiatives that preserve soil nutrition and indigenous biodiversity while also respecting local communities’ cultures and aspirations.

Why does India require a National Blue Carbon Mission?

  • To integrate technological advancements with financial and policy interventions in the blue-carbon sector.
  • The mission can establish national targets for sectors that contribute to the development of a blue-carbon ecosystem.
  • The mission can define phase-by-phase strategies for value-chain development in order to acquire knowledge, manpower, money, and materials to boost the country’s collective efforts.
  • The mission can identify potential demand generation actions such as blue carbon obligations while advocating for the implementation of key enablers for domestic and international players in this space.
  • The mission can help the country establish a strong carbon market.
  • The mission can launch pilot projects with the private sector, non-governmental organisations, and think tanks while ensuring proper monitoring, compliance, and risk-mitigation guidelines.
  • The mission can be empirically validated through pilots, and financial outlays for the short-to-medium term can be determined in order to outperform market expectations.
  • The mission has the ability to integrate technological advancements with financial and policy interventions in the blue-carbon sector.

Why does India require international cooperation?

  • Because of its geostrategic location, India has the potential to be a leading beacon for coordinating cross-functional and cross-continental efforts in the blue carbon space.
  • India is capable of forging meaningful consensus in bilateral and multilateral forums.
  • India must actively participate in platforms such as the Blue Carbon Initiative, the International Partnership for Blue Carbon, and a number of upcoming projects aimed at nurturing blue forests in the Indian Ocean.
  • India’s recent support for the French-led ‘High Ambition Coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction’ and participation in the ‘One Ocean Summit’ are important first steps.
  • India can also assist Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in taking advantage of their vast blue carbon resources.

Conclusion

  • The water bodies that surround India have had a significant impact on its civilizational evolution. Its ancient ethos, literature, and manuscripts have always revered the gifts of the sea.
  • India’s ambitions to emerge as a climate leader justify its rise as a leader in the blue-carbon arena.
  • The lack of India’s thought leadership on this front has led to disappointment in climate dialogues among such countries. Given that India recently assumed the presidency of the G20, it has the capacity to fill this void.

February 2023
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