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What are blue carbon credits and how to maximise their impact

As demand grows for blue carbon credits, the businesses driving this growth have a responsibility to ensure returns are net positive for nature and people.

As demand grows for blue carbon credits, the businesses driving this growth have a responsibility to ensure returns are net positive for nature and people. Image: Joel Vodell on Unsplash

Whitney Johnston
Director, Ocean Sustainability, Salesforce
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Sustainable blue economy

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit

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  • As demand grows for blue carbon credits, the businesses driving this growth have a responsibility to ensure returns are net positive for nature and people.
  • Below are 4 things blue carbon investors must do to optimise outcomes for people, climate, and ecosystems.
  • Steps include: Reduce before offsetting; champion community-first and nature-positive strategies; share as you learn and learn as you go; act with transparency.

Against the backdrop of a global climate crisis, businesses are making bold net-zero commitments and driving rapid growth of the carbon credit market. Businesses achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits equal to their emissions. Each carbon credit represents the removal (or avoided emissions) of one metric ton of carbon dioxide (or its equivalent) from the atmosphere.

Global demand for carbon credits is projected to increase 15-fold and be worth up to $50 billion by 2030. Blue carbon credits – credits linked to carbon storage in coastal and marine ecosystems – could represent a significant portion of that pie.

Have you read?

Blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangrove, seagrasses and salt marshes, are unique in their ability to sequester carbon, mitigate climate risk, improve livelihoods and safeguard biodiversity. Mangrove forests grow along tropical coastlines. Their dense tangle of roots stabilize the coastline, capture carbon-rich sediments, and serve as a nursery for juvenile file.

Mangroves have been estimated to prevent more than $65 billion in property damages and reduce flood risk to some 15 million people every year, with overall ecosystem service benefits estimated to fall between $462 billion and $798 billion per year. In fact, economic analysis shows that the benefits of mangrove restoration and conservation could outweigh the costs by 3:1.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about mangroves?

As demand grows for blue carbon credits, the businesses driving this growth have a responsibility to ensure returns are net positive for nature and people.

Four things businesses must do for blue carbon credits

1. Reduce before offsetting

No single solution is adequate to right-set our course and avoid global temperatures rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. Carbon credit investments must work alongside aggressive emissions reduction measures, not replace them. Significant opportunity exists for businesses to restore and protect blue carbon ecosystems as one component of a more comprehensive carbon strategy that focuses on reducing, avoiding and mitigating carbon emissions with urgency.

2. Champion community-first and nature-positive strategies

Corporate buyers of blue carbon credits must carefully vet and select projects that both improve ecosystems and advance community wellbeing. The communities and ecosystems tied to blue carbon assets are central to the solution. The highest-quality blue carbon projects are those designed to meet community needs. This is achieved by prioritising early and sustained community engagement and participation.

Gaining in recognition is an approach called Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR). This holistic approach has been demonstrated to be effective in achieving long-term successful outcomes. CBEMR restoration efforts address the root cause – both ecological and social – of mangrove loss and degradation. A CBEMR approach involves working with communities to address any political or social barriers, while also focusing on the natural systems – e.g., ecology and hydrology – needed to support lasting mangrove ecosystems. Community members are trained and empowered as stewards of these resources so that people and mangroves can thrive together. Successful restoration endeavours will not only yield the desired climate and environmental outcomes, but also bolster the resilience of the people and ecosystems on the front lines of climate impacts.

3. Share as you learn and learn as you go

As corporate interest and investment in blue carbon ecosystems continue to grow, early actors face the challenge and opportunity of leading by example and learning as they go. Data and knowledge-sharing between these actors will be critical in guiding investments in blue carbon projects. The availability and resolution of global mangrove data has seen significant advances, and further progress is in store with the forthcoming development of a mangrove restoration tracking tool. In concert with this, it is essential for corporate leaders to share learnings, best practices and progress that mobilise responsible action across the global business community.

Two recent opportunities have arisen to support businesses in doing just this:

– Join the Corporate Alliance, a cross-industry coalition committed to leadership, action, integrity, transparency and learning related to forest conservation and restoration.

– Join the Business Alliance to Scale Climate Solutions (BASCS), which is working to scale and improve climate solutions opportunities for business investment.

4. Act with transparency

The potential benefits of blue carbon projects are only realized if the integrity of their impact on greenhouse gas emissions is firm and their impact on local communities and ecosystem services is positive. Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) best practices must be included across ecosystem restoration efforts to ensure planned impacts are realized and to build confidence in the blue carbon market moving forward. Furthermore, blue carbon projects must be diligently evaluated for additionality, permanence and potential leakage of emissions, as well as for community and ecological impact, as stated above.

As trailblazers in this space, businesses purchasing blue carbon credits have both an opportunity and a responsibility to shape the market as it scales so as to deliver optimal outcomes for communities, ecosystems, and climate alike.

Ways to learn more and engage

Join: Join one of the alliances listed above to aggregate a coordinated demand signal and help shape the blue carbon market as it scales.

Learn: Watch Global Mangrove Alliance’s short video on the importance of mangroves and read the recently released State of the World’s Mangroves 2021 Report for more information.

Give: Contribute to blue carbon projects today by visiting the Tree Tracker donation site.

The Mangroves Working Group, led by Friends of Ocean Action in collaboration with, is one of the initiatives that the Corporate Alliance offers to engage its members. The Mangroves Working Group is being launched at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2021.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalNature and BiodiversityClimate ActionEconomic Growth
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