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.”
Towards advancing green business and circular economy in Africa
Policy makers and stakeholders across Africa are meeting to chart green economy opportunities in the agriculture sector under the lead of the Switch Africa Green programme. The forum – under the theme Advancing Green Business and Circular Economy in Africa – is organized by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment.
A regional framework on advancing green business and circular economy is a pathway to the achievement of a green economy, ensuring replication and scaling-up of green business in Africa. It is against this backdrop that the meeting – taking place on 24 and 25 February in Kampala, Uganda – will discuss the avenues and approaches to implementing a circular economy and scaling the continent’s green businesses.
“The Switch Africa Green Programme already promotes circular approaches, including the promotion of biogas technology; E-waste management; promoting organic agriculture, green manufacturing and eco-industrial parks, and through standards and labelling in the hotel industry, among others,” said Frank Turyatunga, Deputy Director of UNEP’s Africa Office. “It is important that the lessons learnt and knowledge shared among countries result in regional harmonization of policies and ensure maximum impact and effective implementation at the national level.”
The forum brings officials from the SWITCH Africa Green partner countries of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda and other stakeholders involved in promoting an inclusive green economy such as policy makers, business associations, the private sector, financial institutions, regional economic communities, development organisations and civil society organisations.
“Tackling emerging environmental challenges may require seizing opportunities like an inclusive green economy that are core to sustainable development and have multiple benefits such as environmental protection, and notably create growth and jobs creation. Key enablers for the transition, include access to green financing, enabling policies and standards, awareness, networking and green businesses with innovative solutions,” said Dr. Tom Okurut, the Executive Director of Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority.
SWITCH Africa Green aims to turn environmental challenges into opportunities based on the understanding that an inclusive green economy is at the core of sustainable development and has multiple benefits next to environmental protection, notably growth and jobs creation, poverty reduction, economic diversification, and income generation. The programme focuses on key enablers for the transition, including access to green financing, enabling policies and standards, circular practices, awareness and skills on eco-entrepreneurship and innovative solutions.
“The New European Consensus on Development – essentially the EU’s response to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – seeks to accelerate transformation by placing an emphasis on cross-cutting elements of development policy such as sustainable energy and climate action, along with investment and trade, employment, gender equality, youth, good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights, migration and mobility,” said Pavlos Evangelidis, head of cooperation, European Union Delegation in Uganda.
Launched in 2014, Switch Africa Green has been steering seven African countries towards sustainable consumption and productions patterns, while also generating economic growth. In the past four years, the programme has achieved widespread success by providing 3,000 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) with training, pilot demonstrations and skills-development on sustainable consumption and production practices.
Afghan youth are helping shape the country’s first national environmental policy
Over 40 years of conflict and insecurity have taken their toll on Afghanistan in countless ways. Amongst the casualties, nature. For example, interminable conflict has increased deforestation across the country, exacerbating the risk of landslides, flooding and other disasters. Wildlife has also been punished by the continuous warfare, with rampant poaching and denuded habitats causing a significant degradation of biodiversity and ecosystem health in many parts of the country.
Over the course of time, the complexity of social and security challenges in Afghanistan has often pushed these environmental issues to the backburner.
And now, climate change is impeding the country’s ability to address social and security challenges. Impacts from a hotter planet are accelerating environmental problems that have long been neglected, leading to worsening water insecurity, land degradation and desertification.
Environmental issues have become impossible to ignore. That’s why the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been supporting Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency to develop its first National Environmental Policy.
But just as Afghanistan’s environment has suffered from conflict, so too has its young population, with a significant population of its citizens under the age of 15.
For the youth of Afghanistan, development cannot ignore a healthy environment. As Mustafa Sarwar, a student at Kabul University, explained, “My dream for Afghanistan’s environment is to live in a city without waste, noise, water and air pollution.”
Bringing Afghanistan’s young people into the conversation has been an important part of the development of the National Environmental Policy. Late in 2019, UNEP facilitated several workshops with youth from Kabul, Kandahar, Balkh and Herat provinces to give them a voice in shaping the future of the country’s environmental policies. The project engaged 120 university students, putting an emphasis on gender representation.
Lisa Guppy, UNEP’s Regional Coordinator for Disasters and Conflicts in Asia and the Pacific, said, “Environmental challenges are becoming increasingly crucial to the overall development of Afghanistan. We have been humbled by the input we’ve received from young people in the development of the National Environmental Policy. There’s a great awareness that this policy can improve their well-being and the country’s success down the line.”
Participants in the workshops shared their perspectives on environmental priorities, risks and solutions, with many raising concerns that they are the ones who must face the reality of climate change in their lifetime.
Students from Balkh University expressed concerns regarding the increasing impact of climate change and population growth on the water supply. They noted that over the last few years extensive drought has been the most serious and impactful environmental change.
Students from Kabul University, meanwhile, emphasised the impact of air pollution. Due to the cost of energy, many residents of Kabul turn to burning plastic, cloths, rubber and other cheap alternatives. Air pollution has gotten so bad in Kabul recently that 17 died from hazardous air conditions in the last week of 2019 alone.
Participants were also asked questions around which concepts can best enable a National Environmental Policy given Afghanistan’s challenging context. This included determining practical ways to engage local stakeholders in the policymaking process and how they believe the environmental agenda could be raised as a higher priority. Participants across the board underlined that diversity in religion and traditions should be considered in developing environmental policy. Communities must also be central, they said.
In January 2020, the collected views were presented at the first inter-Ministerial National Environment Policy planning event, led by the National Environment Protection Agency of Afghanistan.
“As we move forward with developing an innovative, climate-smart National Environmental Policy for Afghanistan, the participation and views of these young people are indispensable,” said Guppy. “It’s their future. They must have a say in it.”
Mobile game aims to bridge gap between citizens and leaders on climate action
Millions of people worldwide will get to share their views on climate action through a UN campaign launched on Thursday aimed at connecting them with Governments and policy makers.
The Mission 1.5 campaign is built around an internet and mobile video game that educates people about climate policy and allows them to vote on possible solutions.
The campaign was developed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), alongside experts in game development, climate science and public polling.
“Together with partners from across the private and public sectors, we have the ability with this campaign to connect millions of people with their governments in an innovative two-way discussion on solutions to the climate crisis, and increase ambition ahead of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow later this year”, said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.
Mission 1.5 takes its name from the collective effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed by world leaders meeting in Paris in 2015.
Described as the world’s biggest survey of public opinion on climate change, it aims to give 20 million people a chance to have their say. A previous survey ahead of the Paris talks canvassed 10,000 people in 76 countries.
Players will take on the role of climate policymakers who make decisions to meet the 1.5 degree goal.
Afterwards, they will vote on key climate actions that they would like to see adopted. The data will be analyzed and delivered to Governments.
The hope is that the game will bridge the gap between citizens and governments on climate action.
“People often feel disconnected from the leaders that must make urgent decisions on the climate crisis,” said Cassie Flynn, UNDP Climate Change Advisor.
“Mission 1.5 is a way to help people understand climate solutions and make their voices heard. In many ways, it is the People’s Climate Vote.”
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