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Greening the blue: championing coastal climate solutions

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They call them ‘blue forests’—and they are among the most productive and valuable habitats on Earth.

Mangroves might not look like much to some, but these humble salt-loving species are vital to coastal ecosystems and communities the world over. They are a crucial breeding habitat for aquatic wildlife—with some 75 per cent of commercially fished species either spending part of their life cycle in mangrove ecosystems or depending on the habitat for food. They also protect the coasts themselves, with their dense root systems acting as natural buffers against storm surges.

However, it’s their potential in the fight against climate change that is making mangroves the new superstars of coastal conservation efforts.

“Mangroves and other ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems like sea grasses and salt marshes are incredibly efficient at storing carbon,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) international waters expert Isabelle Vanderbeck says.

“They can absorb and store as much as 10 times as much carbon as terrestrial ecosystems—so it goes without saying that they are a critical part of efforts to overcome climate change.”

But despite their value to the environment and coastal economies alike, globally mangroves are being lost at an alarming rate — three to five times faster than other forests.

“Over one third of the world’s mangroves have been lost over the last 100 years,” Vanderbeck says. “It’s a trend that has to stop now if the species and communities that depend on them are to survive.”

Nature-based climate solutions

However, growing recognition of mangroves’ role in both mitigating and adapting to climate change, combined with a growing global market for carbon offsets, is providing a lifeline for mangrove ecosystems the world over.

With backing from the Global Environment Facility, the Blue Forests Project—a collaboration between UNEP and GRID-Arendal—is working with partners across eight countries to test ‘blue carbon’ and other nature-based climate solutions, setting the stage for countries to help countries fulfil the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement by upscaling these approaches globally.

“Through the Blue Forests Project, we are exploring how coastal carbon and ecosystem services can be harnessed to fight climate change, boost conservation and provide sustainable livelihoods,” Steven Lutz, project coordinator at GRID-Arendal, says.

“Blue Forests builds on ‘blue carbon’ market success.” Lutz says. “Our partner site in Gazi Bay, Kenya is the world’s first working blue carbon’ market project, where carbon finance has been supporting communities to conserve and restore mangrove forests for the past few years. Profit from the Gazi Bay project also supports community development activities such as the building of freshwater wells.”

Blue carbon goes global

Just last month, the project celebrated its latest milestone, with the launch of the world’s largest community-based mangrove carbon finance conservation initiative in Madagascar in partnership with Blue Ventures.

Under the project—dubbed ‘Tairy Honko’, or ‘preserving mangroves’ in the local Vezo dialect—communities across the Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area in Madagascar’s remote southwest are uniting to restore and conserve over 1,200 hectares of mangroves.

Together with blue carbon sales in Vanga Bay and Gazi Bay in Kenya, achieved in partnership with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, the Madagascar project represents an expansion of the market for blue carbon offsets by an order of magnitude, with Blue Forests having brought a total 1,500 hectares of mangrove forests to the voluntary carbon market.

“Over 1,500 hectares of mangrove forests are now available on the voluntary carbon market, Lutz says. “With support from the Global Environment Facility and partners, the Blue Forests Project has been able to expand the carbon market for blue carbon offsets by over an order of magnitude.”

The Tahiry Honko initiative is set to offset global emissions, with verified ‘blue carbon’ credit sales providing the funds needed to support local management of the marine protected area and finance community development, including infrastructure, healthcare and education.

“We inherited these mangroves from our ancestors, providing materials we need to survive,” Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area Association member Joel François says. “I want to ensure we can pass these forests on to our children.”

“Through the Blue Forests Project, we have been able to demonstrate that the carbon market can work to achieve goals in sustainable development and the mitigation of climate change”, Isabelle Vanderbeck says. “Next steps include supporting countries to include blue carbon solutions in national pledges to fulfil the Paris Climate Agreement.”

UN Environment

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Crop Certification: Going green unlocks global markets for farmers

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Photo: UNEP / Max Zieren

Over the last 30 years, more and more tea, coffee and cocoa farmers have embraced towards climate-smart and sustainable practices by adopting “certification standards” that help to maintain soil quality, increase productivity and reduce costs. The standards also assure buyers of agricultural commodities that the products in their supply chains are environmentally sustainable.

In July 2020, a milestone was reached when United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) partner, the Rainforest Alliance, published its new unified standard (certification programme) for production systems that conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services. The standard applies to over 5 million hectares of tropical farmland, impacting the livelihoods of over 2 million farming families.

“Certifications like Rainforest Alliance have played an important role in driving sustainable supply chains at both the production and consumption end,” says Christopher Stewart, Global Head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Olam International. “We have partnered with the Rainforest Alliance for many years and highly valued their sustainability expertise and implementation skills to help us advance our farmer programmes. A stamp-like Rainforest Alliance can motivate consumers to buy sustainably produced products and support farmers.”

The numbers prove that farmers also find benefit in getting certified. Data from 2019 indicates that more than 209,000 farmers participated in the Rainforest Alliance certification scheme in Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador and Ghana, producing more than 200,000 tonnes of cocoa, enough to make 13 million 100g chocolate bars per day.    

In the same year, companies bought enough Rainforest Alliance certified tea to produce 330 million cups of tea every day, with certified production involving 936,000 tea farmers and 734,000 workers. Top producing countries were India, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Data on 2020 will be published in March-April 2021.

In Ghana, where cocoa is the nation’s main export, bringing in over $3 billion in 2018, UNEP and the Rainforest Alliance joined forces with Olam to enable uptake of the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable agriculture certification scheme in the Bia-Juabeso region.

Taking a landscape approach, which seeks to balance competing land use demands in a way that is best for human wellbeing and the environment, the project was one of the first initiatives in Ghana to conduct farm mapping and registration of trees on farmland, mobilizing 2,800 farmers in 34 agricultural communities to conserve the local environment and ecosystem services on which future cocoa productivity depends.

The approach has since been replicated across three different landscapes in Ghana, in collaboration with Olam, funded through the United Kingdom Government’s Partnership for Forests, and most recently a new partnership with the European Union.

UNEP and the Rainforest Alliance, with backing from the Global Environment Facility, have been supporting farmers from Ghana to Vietnam to take advantage of certification schemes – building rural prosperity, while also developing green supply chains and delivering healthy food and other agricultural products to local communities.

Greening the tea industry

In China, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam the partnership worked with tea growers to reduce the use of agrochemicals for weed control, reducing costs to farmers and improving soil health.

The project taught smallholder tea farmers how to distinguish harmful weeds from harmless ones that can be left in the ground. This helps protect from erosion, improves soil organic content through mulching (a powerful source of plant nutrition as well as a carbon storage agent) and significantly improves soil moisture – all key for crop production. With fewer weeds to extract, farmers can remove harmful species manually, avoiding poisonous herbicides, and reducing the costs of maintaining a healthy crop.

The future of certification

Building on the successes of these initiatives, the Rainforest Alliance rolled out its enhanced Certification Programme in July 2020.

“After two years of far-reaching consultation with farmers, companies, non-government organizations, governments, and researchers – with input from more than a 1,000 people in nearly 50 countries – we have raised our ambitions,” says Rainforest Alliance’s Director for Landscapes and Communities, Edward Millard.

“This means strengthened requirements for farms and companies, better monitoring and assurance systems, advanced digital innovations and, at the heart of it all, a vision of sustainability as a shared journey of continuous improvement,” he says.

Farms will work towards increasing compliance with the standard while learning new techniques based on using the services that nature provides.

“The great thing about this new scheme is that it is much more doable for farmers than previous schemes. It’s also at the core of a new Global Environment Facility-funded sustainable agriculture landscapes project in India, expected to start in 2021,” says UNEP biodiversity and land management expert Max Zieren.

UN Environment

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Oil and Gas Industry commits to new framework to monitor, report and reduce methane emissions

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In a move that will help tackle one of the biggest and most solvable contributors to the climate crisis, major players in the oil and gas industry agreed today to report methane emissions with a new, much higher level of transparency.

“To win the Race to Net Zero Emissions, we need everyone on board. We need ambitious action from the Oil & Gas Industry. UNEP is committed to supporting efforts that reduce methane emissions, and we recognize the leadership of companies that have joined such an ambitious methane reporting framework,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “We look forward to seeing actions that turn commitments into actual emissions reduction”.

Methane released directly into the atmosphere is a highly potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Actions to cut methane emissions can yield a near-term reduction in the rate of warming, complementing efforts to decarbonize the world’s energy and transport systems while also delivering air quality benefits.

Kadri Simson, EU Energy Commissioner, said “I am very happy to see the energy industry taking immediate action on methane emissions. A clear commitment to measure and monitor emissions is an important first step for significantly reducing them and I am proud of what we have achieved together. Today’s signature is the first deliverable under the Commission’s recent methane strategy.There are many more steps to take to cut emissions along the entire value chain and I hope to work closely with all – European and international – partners to reach this goal.”

The Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP) is a Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) initiative led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the European Commission (EC), and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Already 62 companies with assets on five continents representing 30 per cent of the world’s oil and gas production have joined the partnership. The new OGMP2.0 framework is the new gold standard reporting framework that will improve the reporting accuracy and transparency of anthropogenic methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.

“Thanks to the 62 companies for committing to measure, report and reduce pollution from their core operations and joint ventures. This will be the basis for robust standards in Europe, and beyond, that ensure the oil industry takes the practical actions urgently needed for our climate,” said Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0

At the core of the effort is a comprehensive measurement-based methane-reporting framework that will make it easier for officials, investors and the public to accurately track and compare performance across companies in ways that have not been possible to this point.

“Reducing methane emissions is a crucial effort in the industry’s decarbonization pathway. As a factor on which we can have an immediate and concrete positive impact, OGMP 2.0 offers an internationally recognized blueprint to companies across our industry willing to make improvements in their emission reductions in all phases of the value chain. We look forward to continue working with all partners involved, as only through collaboration with international organizations, civil society and governments we can deliver on our common goals,” said Claudio Descalzi, Chief Executive Officer of ENI.

As stipulated in the EU methane strategy, the European Commission is planning to elaborate a legislative proposal on compulsory measurement, reporting, and verification for all energy-related methane emissions, building on the OGMP 2.0 framework

Crucially, the OGMP 2.0 includes not only a company’s own operations, but also the many joint ventures responsible for a substantial share of their production.  The OGMP 2.0 framework applies to the full oil and gas value chain, not only upstream production, but also midstream transportation and downstream processing and refining – areas with substantial emissions potential that are often left out of reporting today.

The goal is to enable the oil and gas industry to realize deep reductions in methane emissions over the next decade in a way that is transparent to civil society and governments.

“Reducing methane emissions is critical for natural gas to play a role in the energy transition and this new partnership will foster the sharing of industry best practices, particularly on non-operated assets, and improve monitoring” said Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman & CEO of Total. “This is a new step in the fight against methane emissions and our industry is deeply committed to the success of this initiative.”

In order to support the realization of global climate targets, OGMP 2.0 aims to deliver a 45 per cent reduction in the industry’s methane emissions by 2025, and a 60-75 per cent reduction by 2030.

Cost-effective solutions

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), roughly three-quarters of methane emissions could be reduced with the technology that exists today, and close to half at zero net cost. Reducing methane emissions from the energy sector by 90% would shave two tenths of a degree Celsius from the forecasted rise in the planet’s average temperature by 2050.

Reducing fossil methane emissions by 75 per cent can prevent up to 6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually – almost ten per cent of the planet’s 2019 greenhouse gas emissions, including land-use change.

New observatory in the works

UNEP and the European Commission are also finalizing plans to set up an independent International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO). IMEO will aggregate and analyse multiple methane emissions data streams, including data reported by OGMP member companies, to accelerate reductions in methane emissions globally. By assisting industry and governments globally in addressing uncertainty related to reported emissions, the Observatory will improve the consistency and credibility of methane emissions data and accelerate mitigation actions.

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ADB, Indorama Ventures Sign $100 Million Blue Loan to Boost Recycling

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited (IVL) signed a $100 million financing package to reduce the environmental impact of plastic and promote a circular economy by boosting the capacity of IVL’s plastic recycling plants in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

The plants will recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics widely used in beverage bottles. The finance package comprises $50 million from ADB and $50 million from the ADB-administered Leading Asia’s Private Infrastructure Fund (LEAP). A $150 million loan will be provided by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and $50 million from DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH.

“The recycling of plastics like PET is a must for healthier oceans, and this initiative will help to achieve that objective by partnering with IVL, which is the global leader of PET production and recycling. We are also excited to work closely with IFC and DEG in this important journey,” said Vice-President for Private Sector Operations and Public–Private Partnerships Ashok Lavasa. “There is a rising global demand for recycled plastic packaging. ADB’s support will help IVL to meet this demand by collecting and treating plastic waste that would otherwise have been released into the oceans.”

“We are honored to agree to this Blue Loan with ADB,” said Chief Sustainability Officer Indorama Ventures Yashovardhan Lohia. “IVL is building the recycling infrastructure needed to divert waste from the marine environment. By using post-consumer PET bottles as a feedstock for new bottles, we give value to waste. This drives improvements in waste collection systems, meaning less waste and cleaner oceans.”

Mismanagement of all plastic waste damages the marine ecosystem. It is estimated that Asia accounts for more than 80% of all plastics released into the ocean. Globally around half of PET is recycled. In a circular economy, products and materials are redesigned, recovered, and recycled to divert plastic waste from landfills and oceans. The plants to be built under the project are expected to be fully operational by 2022, and will ensure that nearly 5 billion additional bottles are diverted from waste annually.

ADB’s loan is its first independently verified nonsovereign blue loan, following Blue Natural Capital Financing Facility’s Blue Bond Guidelines, with an assurance report from DNV GL. It is aligned with ADB’s Action Plan for Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Blue Economies, which calls for ADB to expand its investments and technical assistance to $5 billion during 2019–2024.

IVL is a Thailand-listed, global business committed to develop technologies and processes that use post-consumer PET and polyester waste materials as feedstock for the future. As the largest producer of 100% recyclable PET in the world, IVL supports all aspects of the circular economy to reduce the amount of waste entering the environment. IVL is listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and operates 125 manufacturing facilities in 33 countries, across 5 continents.

LEAP is a cofinancing vehicle established by ADB and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to support private sector investments in energy and power generation, as well as water, urban infrastructure, transport, information and communications technology, and health.

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