Opening the Door at VCS for Wetlands Activities

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

After months of technical writing and peer review, the draft requirements for crediting wetlands restoration and conservation (WRC) activities are available for public comment until June 23. The WRC requirements set out rules for crediting activities in a range of wetlands areas, including mangroves, salt marshes, sea grasses, freshwater tidal coastal wetlands, floodplains, peatlands and potentially other areas. The WRC requirements expand eligible activities in the AFOLU sector. Stakeholders are encouraged to submit comments on the draft requirements, which are posted on the VCS website.

Restore America's Estuaries supported and led the Wetlands Technical Working Group, which convened in March 2011, to develop the WRC requirements. The working group is made up of scientists and technical experts from VCSA, Silvestrum, ESA PWA, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the US Forest Service.

Restoration - Adaptation - Mitigation

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) released a report today that for the first time links ecologically important coastal habitat restoration with adaptation and mitigation strategies as a way to reduce the impacts of ongoing global climate change. “Restore-Adapt-Mitigate: Responding to Climate Change through Coastal Habitat Restoration,” demonstrates that coastal wetland restoration—everything from restoring salt marshes, to protecting mangroves, and creating new coastal wetland habitats—can be an integral part of public and private initiatives to combat climate change. The report examines the current state of U.S. coasts; likely effects of climate change on those coasts; coastal planning, design, and policymaking considerations; why coastal habitat restoration is essential to climate change adaptation and mitigation; and new findings that indicate that coastal tidal wetlands are efficient carbon sinks for greenhouse gases responsible for much observed global warming, making them essential components of efforts to reduce climate change impacts. The report is a multi-author collaboration bringing together internationally recognized experts in environmental science, policy, and coastal habitat restoration.

Among the report’s key findings and recommendations:

  • America’s coasts face unprecedented stresses as a result of ongoing—and likely accelerating—global climate change; early and swift action is essential if we are to reduce its effects.
  • Government policy makers and restoration professionals must adopt an ecosystem-based restoration perspective featuring coordinated regional planning and projects.
  • Coastal restoration does not exist apart from coastal communities and their residents. In fact, the fate and, in some cases, existence of these communities is inextricably linked to healthy coasts and estuaries. Coastal residents must be made aware of and invested in the need for preservation and adaptation where possible, and restoration and mitigation where needed.
  • Many of the expected effects from climate change—global warming, sea level rise, coastal erosion, and an increase in the number and intensity of major storms—may not happen gradually and incrementally. Current evidence suggests that there may be a sudden tipping point, beyond which major and potentially catastrophic changes in weather, temperature, and sea level occur.
  • New science indicates that coastal wetlands—particularly tidal-saline wetland systems—are incredibly efficient carbon sinks for greenhouse gases (GHG). This makes coastal restoration, adaptation, and mitigation essential elements in government planning and policy, and has profound ramifications and opportunities for government and commercial investments in domestic and international carbon markets.

Report contributors include: Stephen Crooks, Director of Climate Change Services at ESA PWA; Janet Hawkes, Managing Director of HD1 LLC; Brian Needelman, Associate Professor of Soil Science at the University of Maryland/Department of Environmental Science and Technology; Caroly Shumway, President of CAS Environmental Solutions; Richard Takacs, NOAA Fisheries Biologist; and James G. Titus, a Lawyer-Applied Mathematician with the U.S. EPA.

Funding for the report was provided by the Henry Phillip Kraft Family Memorial Fund of the New York Community Trust, the Marisla Foundation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Coastal Program.

Using Wetlands Carbon to Improve Coastal Management

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

Since January, I am one of the lucky few people who has twice heard Dr. Boone Kauffman of Oregon State University present his analysis of the carbon impact of shrimp farming on converted mangroves in southeast Asia.

His most recent talk at AAAS last week in Vancouver has been getting a lot of play this week, helping bring attention to an abhorrent practice in SE Asia and the associated climate change impacts - or the "Land Use Carbon Footprint" as he calls it.

Here's the rundown on his talk "What's the Jumbo Carbon Footprint of a Shrimp."

The “Land Use Carbon Footprint” is the carbon emissions that arise from the conversion of an ecosystem to another land cover type in order to provide some commodity.

Shrimp farming in SE Asia is a dominant cause of mangrove deforestation. Productivity in a converted shrimp pond is 50 to 500kg / hectare / year. The productive life of a shrimp pond is 3 to 9 years due to disease, and then it is abandoned.

Based on data from 24 mangrove sites, the calculation of the Land Use Carbon Footprint of a 100g shrimp cocktail takes into account:

  • 100% loss of the above ground carbon stored in the mangrove trees,
  • 100% loss of the below ground tree carbon (roots), and
  • 100% loss of the surface soil carbon in the mangrove soil when it is piled into banks to create the shrimp pond.

Using an average productivity and life of the shrimp pond, a 100g shrimp cocktail has the staggering Land Use Carbon Footprint of 198 kg CO2. This means that for every kg of shrimp meat produced, the carbon footprint is 1,980 kg CO2 - nearly two metric tons, or more than 4,300 pounds. This is a conservative estimate and does not include the carbon costs of establishing the shrimp pond, feeding the shrimp, fertilizers, medicines, processing, or shipping.

The direct land use impact of every kg of shrimp meat produced is the destruction of 13.4 m2 of mangrove.  With the loss of these mangroves there is a corresponding loss of ecosystem services such as storm protection, water quality, and essential fish habitat.

You might be wondering how this compares to other foods that have been identified as contributing to global climate change, such as a steak raised on pasture clear cut in the Amazon rain forest. Using a parallel method, Dr. Kauffman calculates the Land Use Carbon Footprint of a one pound steak to be one-tenth of an equivalent amount of shrimp from a converted mangrove.

One more comparison. If we assume a Prius gets 50 miles/gallon, knowing that each gallon of gas contains 8.8kg CO2, we can estimate that you would have to drive your Prius 1,125 miles to emit as much CO2 as the emissions related to the 100g shrimp cocktail. Depending on where you live, you could potentially drive to the Gulf of Mexico, buy shrimp from a local fisherman, and prepare them fresh yourself.

This is a striking and compelling analysis, and I am grateful to Dr. Kauffman for his excellent work. It is my hope that presenting the impact of shrimp farming in mangroves in this light will help to improve management of these critically important ecosystems, which are being lost at rates exceeding 2% per year.

Dr. Kauffman also ran one more calculation - estimating that with a price of carbon at $4/ton, it would be more cost effective to use carbon markets to protect the mangroves than to allow their continued destruction for cheap shrimp. And remember, this did not take into account all of the other carbon impacts of shrimp farming in converted mangroves.

*A disclaimer - the information presented here is from notes I took during Dr. Kauffman's presentations at the European Parliament in January, and at the AAAS meeting last week in Vancouver. I believe the information to be accurate, but this work has not yet been published.

Blue Carbon at European Parliament

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

Today in Brussels, Belgium, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Struan Stevenson chaired a symposium on "Blue Carbon – Managing coastal ecosystems for climate change mitigation.” MEP Stevenson is the Chair of the European Parliament (EP) Intergroup “Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development.” The meeting was attended by 75 people, including MEPs, NGOs, the Directorate General for Environment and the Directorate General for Climate Action.

Pia Bucella, Director in DG Environment, European Commission urged the European Parliament as the political arm of the EU to raise the profile and encourage the integration of coastal Blue Carbon-based activities, such as the conservation and restoration of these systems.

"Preserving and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems should be fully integrated in all climate change mitigation strategies and biodiversity policies at International and European level”, argued Mr. Stevenson. He further declared the blue carbon symposium to be "ground-breaking in the European Parliament."

The discussion at Parliament today helped to create links between the growing suite of Blue Carbon activities with activities of the European Commission on climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development. It signifies the greater level of recognition and importance being given to Blue Carbon and heralds a strong start to 2012, which I tentatively am calling "the year of blue carbon."

The symposium followed a two day workshop of the International Blue Carbon Policy Working Group, hsoted by IUCN, Conservation International, and the Eurpoean Bureau for Conservation and Development. Restore America's Estuaries has been participating in the working group since its inception, bringing a national perspective and working to strengthen both the U.S. and global blue  carbon efforts. The policy group succeeded in refining its priorities and objectives over the past two days and has made substantial progress toward integrating blue carbon into existing international frameworks.

For more information, visit

iPhone App for Blue Carbon

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

How cool is this? Thanks to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), you can now calculate your carbon footprint, then see how much mangroves, salt marsh, or sea grasses it would take to offset your emissions on your iPhone. UNEP launched the application at the Eye on Earth summit in Abu Dhabi on December 13. It includes information about Blue Carbon, REDD Carbon, and how consumers can reduce their impacts on important ecosystems. Here's a description of the app.

This will certainly raise the profile of Blue and REDD Carbon, and it makes me want to get an iPhone, too. Nice work UNEP!

The app is available at the Apple Store.

Radio Coverage and a Web Resource

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

I wanted to share two recent radio stories relating to coastal blue carbon and a web resource.

On December 6 and 7, NPR aired a two-part story about California's climate law and "carbon farming" in the Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta. Click here for the story.

On November 29, the Diane Rehm interviewed Kennedy Warne, a New Zealand marine biologist, about the loss of mangroves to shrimp farming. Coastal blue carbon is being proposed as an option to protect remaining mangroves. Dr. Warne has a new book out, “Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea.” Click here for the interview.

NOAA has launched a blue carbon web site describing NOAA's efforts -

I hope you can make use of these new resources.

Peer Reviewers Needed - VCS Wetland Requirements

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

The Verified Carbon Standard Association is now seeking peer reviewers for the draft Wetlands Requirements. RAE has been leading the VCS Wetlands Technical Working Group, which includes: Steve Crooks with ESAPWA, Igino Emmer of Silvestrum, Pat Megonigal at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Boone Kauffman with Oregon State University, Carolyn Ching with VCSA and myself.

Here's the full text of the announcement:

The VCS Association is seeking qualified individuals to participate in a peer review of draft requirements for crediting the greenhouse gas benefits of Wetlands Restoration and Conservation (WRC) activities.

The draft requirements have been developed by the VCS Wetlands Technical Working Group. The final requirements will be incorporated into existing VCS requirements for crediting the GHG benefits of activities in the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector.

The objective of the peer review is to solicit detailed technical input to ensure the draft requirements are conceptually rigorous, scientifically robust and workable in practice. The peer review will emphasize technical rigor; broader input will be sought later during a public consultation.

Peer reviewers should have significant expertise and experience with wetland restoration or conservation. Methodology developers, policy makers, market analysts and validation/verification bodies, among others, are invited to apply. Familiarity with VCS methodology development and assessment is useful but not essential.

  • To be considered as a peer reviewer, please submit your resume or CV and a brief description of your experience to by 23 December.
  • To recommend a peer reviewer, please submit their name and contact details by 16 December.

Peer reviewers will be asked to begin the review in early January 2012 and provide comments by early February. Peer reviewers should expect to commit 4-8 hours to the task. We regret that we are unable to offer compensation.

Integrating Blue Carbon into National and International Policies

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

The International Blue Carbon Policy Working Group released its pdfBlue Carbon Policy Framework today, which details a coordinated program of policy objectives and activities needed for the integration of blue carbon into existing initiatives.

Here is a summary from the report of the blue carbon policy objectives:

  1. Integrate Blue Carbon activities fully into the international policy and financing processes of the UNFCCC as part of mechanisms for climate change mitigation
    1. Build awareness in the climate change policy community of the strength of scientific evidence on the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems and the emissions resulting from the degradation and destruction of these systems.
    2. Access carbon finance through UNFCCC mechanisms and related funding streams
    3. Include Blue Carbon management activities as incentives for climate change mitigation by Annex-I countries
    4. Provide the scientific and technical basis (data, reporting and accounting guidelines, methodologies, etc) for financing of coastal carbon management activities.
  2. Integrate Blue Carbon activities fully into other carbon finance mechanisms such as the voluntary carbon market as a mechanism for climate change mitigation
  3. Develop a network of demonstration projects
    1. Strategic coordination and funding of demonstration projects
    2. Capacity building at local/national level
  4. Integrate Blue Carbon activities into other international, regional and national frameworks and policies, including coastal and marine frameworks and policies
    1. Enhance implementation and inform financing processes of those relevant MEAs that provide policy frameworks relevant for ocean and coastal habitats management
    2. Use existing international frameworks to advance and disseminate technical knowledge on coastal ecosystems management for climate change mitigation
    3. Use international frameworks to raise awareness of role of conservation, restoration and sustainable use of coastal ecosystems for climate change mitigation
    4. Integrate coastal ecosystem conservation, restoration and sustainable use activities as means for climate change mitigation in national, sub-national and sectoral policy frameworks.
  5. Facilitate the inclusion of the carbon value of coastal ecosystems in the accounting of ecosystem services

Restore America’s Estuaries is honored to participate in the working group, and is working to integrate blue carbon activities into voluntary and regulatory carbon markets.

The policy working group was convened in July by IUCN and Conservation International and consists of experts in coastal science, environmental policy and economics, and project implementation from within the climate change and marine communities. Representatives from the following organizations and institutions were present at the Washington, DC meeting: IUCN, CI, UNESCO-IOC, UNEP, World Bank, VCS, Climate Focus, Silvestrum, ESA-PWA, Restore America’s Estuaries, EDF, MARES/Forest Trend, Wetlands International, Nicholas Institute - Duke University, Oregon State University, Ramsar Secretariat, CBD Secretariat, Coalition of Rainforest Nations, NOAA, U.S. Department of State, Ministry of the Environment Ecuador, Agency for Marine and Fisheries Research and Development Indonesia. Funding for the workshop has been provided by the Linden Trust for Conservation. Additional workshops will be held during 2012.

For those of you in Durban next week, I recommend a workshop being offered by IUCN and Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, "Managing Coastal Ecosystems for Climate Mitigation." The workshop is December 7th and is part of the Rio Conventions Pavillion.

From the flyer:

Coastal habitats worldwide are under increasing threat of destruction through human activities. This loss of habitat carries with it the loss of critical functions that coastal ecosystems provide, including carbon storage.

This session will discuss…scientific and economic dimensions and explore policy and financing options for conserving carbon in coastal habitats for climate mitigation. Managing coastal ecosystems for climate change mitigation can achieve multiple benefits towards the achievement of the objectives of the UNFCCC as well as CBD.

Dr Stephen Crooks, Climate Change Director, ESA PWA
Dr Brian C. Murray, Research Professor and Director for Economic Analysis, Nicholas Institute
Robert O'Sullivan, Executive Director North America, Climate Focus
Dr.-Ing. Widodo S. Pranowo, Head of R&D Programme, Center for Marine & Coastal Resources Research & Development, Ministry of Marine & Fisheries, The Republic of Indonesa.

For more information, contact Dorothee Herr at IUCN.

San Francisco Bay Wetlands in Trouble

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Posted by: Steve Emmett-Mattox

A study released in November by PRBO Conservation Science concludes that in a worst-case scenario, 93% of San Franscisco Bay's tidal marsh will be inundated by sea level rise in 50-100 years, but that restoration can help mitigate these scenarios.

From a wetlands carbon perspective, this loss would be devastating - SF Bay's tidal marshes are excellent at sequestering carbon, and their soils contain hundreds of years of stored carbon, carbon that would be released if the wetlands are inundated.

Action now to protect and restore San Francisco's tidal marshes that allows them to migrate as sea levels rise is essential and will result in increased carbon sequestration and storage, helping mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The study assesses how sea-level rise, suspended sediment availability, salinity and other factors might impact San Francisco Bay’s tidal marshes.  "Evaluating Tidal Marsh Sustainability in the Face of Sea-Level Rise: A Hybrid Modeling Approach Applied to San Francisco Bay," was published this week in the journal PLoS ONE The study was authored by researchers from PRBO as well as ESA PWA, University of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and San Francisco State University.


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