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Ocean-based solutions are vital to reaching net-zero by 2050

Ocean-based solutions are vital to reaching net-zero by 2050

Dr Chris Tuckett

3 min read

With COP26 occurring in six months’ time, it has never been more pertinent for UK governments to take action and develop a four nation Blue Carbon Strategy.

While the significant role of the world’s forests in helping to absorb and reduce carbon emissions has been formally recognized resulting in initiatives and reforesting projects around the world, ocean-based solutions are too often overlooked.

In partnership with Rewilding Britain, the Marine Conservation Society has explored the ocean’s vital role in fighting the climate crisis and reaching the UK’s net zero targets. The resulting report, 'Blue Carbon – Ocean-based solutions to fight the climate crisis', outlines how vital blue carbon solutions are to an effective strategy for hitting net zero by 2050.

In recognition of the vital role our ocean must play in urgent climate change mitigation and adaptation, ocean-based solutions must be adopted with pace and at scale by 2030.

Marine ecosystems like seagrass meadows, saltmarshes and mangroves absorb or ‘draw down’ carbon from the water and atmosphere, just like plants and trees on land. Blue carbon is simply carbon absorbed from the water and atmosphere stored in the world’s marine ecosystems.

Globally, the rewilding of key blue carbon securing marine and coastal ecosystems such as seagrass beds, saltmarshes and mangroves could deliver carbon dioxide mitigation amounting to 1.83 billion tonnes. That is 5% of the emissions savings we need to make globally. This figure doesn’t include the enormous quantities of carbon stored in fish and other marine life; in marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, seaweeds and shellfish beds; or the vast stores of carbon in our seabed sediments.

Investment in protecting our marine ecosystems is vital, for both biodiversity and blue carbon storage

The report reveals that 500,000 km2 of the UK’s shelf seas – those no deeper than 200 metres – hold an estimated 205 million tonnes of carbon - 50 million tonnes more than the entire quantity held within the UK’s forests.

Harmful fishing practices such as bottom trawling, and other activities such as dredging, disturb seabed sediments and have the potential to result in the loss of 13 million tonnes of carbon from vital blue carbon stores, including shellfish beds and kelp forests, over the next decade.

With COP26 occurring in six months’ time, it has never been more pertinent for UK governments to take action. Ocean-based solutions must be part of the many urgent and varied solutions required to address the climate crisis.

Nature-based solutions could provide a third of climate change mitigations required to address the climate crisis, but currently they attract less than 3% of funds invested globally in addressing climate change.

Internationally, the UK is leading the way by committing to significantly increase its spending on nature-based solutions, including those offered by the ocean.  This must be matched with equally ambitious actions at home.

Not only do the UK’s marine ecosystems act as crucial blue carbon stores, they also provide ecosystem services such as generating oxygen, protecting coastal communities from rising sea levels and removing pollutants from the water. They act as nursery grounds for commercial fish and shellfish species and as havens for wildlife. Investment in protecting our marine ecosystems is vital, for both biodiversity and blue carbon storage.

The report makes the case for the development of a four nation Blue Carbon Strategy, focusing on three key action areas. First, scaling up marine rewilding for biodiversity and blue carbon benefits. Second, Integrating blue carbon protection and recovery into climate mitigation and environmental management policies. Third, working with the private sector to develop and support sustainable and innovative low-carbon commercial fisheries and aquaculture.


Dr Chris Tuckett is the director of programmes at the Marine Conservation Society. Read the full report here and the parliamentary briefing here.

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