Coastal carbon offset projects: From global to local impact

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Coastal carbon offset projects: From global to local impact

As the urgency to develop climate change solutions continues to grow, coastal carbon offset projects present a promising new pathway for climate action. An Indian mangrove restoration project achieved both significant carbon storage and social benefits, demonstrating the potential synergy between environmental protection and economic prosperity.

Herr, Dorothée & Blum, Juliet & Himes-Cornell, Amber & Sutton-Grier, Ariana. (2019). An analysis of the potential positive and negative livelihood impacts of coastal carbon offset projects. Journal of Environmental Management. 235. 463-479. 10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.01.067.

Rapid urban development, increased natural resource extraction, and the looming threat of climate change have all put the world’s ecosystems and landscapes at risk. There is an urgent need to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions and prevent the potentially catastrophic impacts of global warming. Carbon offset projects have emerged as a solution to preserve natural ecosystems while also reducing our carbon footprint. A carbon offset is an action or activity that effectively compensates for other activities that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Forests, grasslands and other natural environments are called “carbon sinks” due to their ability to store carbon in trees and plants to ‘offset’ emissions. Now, there are an increasing number of projects being developed to preserve coastal wetland ecosystems due to their capacity to act as sizable carbon sinks.

Carbon offset projects are often located in the forests and wetlands of developing countries and are managed by national or international companies. These projects are intended to achieve sustainable development goals beyond simply storing carbon, which could affect local populations. In a 2019 study in the Journal of Environmental Management, researchers created the Coastal Carbon Impacts Framework to thoroughly assess the social benefits of offset projects. The study indicated that through thoughtful project design, effective long-term monitoring, and an emphasis on community engagement, coastal carbon offset projects can provide significant long term economic and social benefits to regional populations.

The researchers assessed the Sundarbans Mangrove Restoration Project in India using the proposed framework and found promising outcomes. This project restored 16 million mangrove trees on 2,500 hectares, which will sequester an estimated 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide over 20 years. The new mangrove habitat has allowed fish and crab populations to thrive and has improved the overall health of the marine ecosystem. The project also created jobs: locals started small businesses that capitalized on mangrove resources such as honey, sustainable aquaculture, and ecotourism.

The mangrove project also precipitated a cultural shift. As fishermen who work in the mangroves became increasingly aware of unsustainable fishing practices, many voluntarily started employing more sustainable methods. The communities around the Sundarbans Mangrove Restoration Project have also been active in decision making through regular local community stakeholder meetings with the project managers. Active engagement on the local level has built trust, and the benefits of the development has led to an increase in people recognition of the value of forest resources.

Carbon offset projects present an opportunity for synergy between climate change mitigation and economic and social opportunities in developing nations. Projects can simultaneously achieve significant carbon reductions and help improve long-term livelihood, education, and economic development for their associated communities.  The key to success is to ensure that these projects engage local communities and ensure equitable resource management. Offset projects represent a new frontier for just climate change action and the long-term protection of coastal ecosystems.

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