Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses play a significant role as carbon sinks in the fight against climate change. They sequester and store large quantities of carbon in both the plants and the sediment below. Mangroves, for example, store three to five times more carbon per area than many terrestrial forests.

Conservation and restoration of coastal ecosystems has the potential to help mitigate climate change while supporting many countries’ adaptation efforts and contributing to their sustainable development goals. Yet, too often they are destroyed to make way for development, or for the exploitation of resources, and are excluded from future planning.

Destruction of these ecosystems results in the release of carbon back into the atmosphere, further fuelling climate change. It is estimated that more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide are released annually from degraded coastal ecosystems - more than the emissions of the UK, France and Italy combined.

These ecosystems include coral reefs, and are some of the most productive on Earth. They provide additional ecosystem services that greatly benefit local communities, such as nursery areas for fish and water purification. They are also tourist destinations. Mangroves, for example, are globally estimated to be worth at least USD1.6 billion per year in ecosystem services.

Resilient to natural hazards, they also contribute to disaster risk reduction, providing coastal protection against floods, storms, tsunamis and sea level rise.


Coastal ecosystems have a critical role to play in helping us mitigate and adapt to climate change, making it all the more urgent that we act now to protect and restore these ecosystems and increase marine protected areas.

Community-led projects:

Recent success stories in coastal conservation are linked to community-based carbon projects with high stakeholder participation. Key incentives for local people include the support of sustainable livelihoods and returns from carbon offsets that go back to neighbouring communities.

Inclusion in NDCs:

Coastal ecosystem management - particularly for climate mitigation and adaptation – must be included in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement. This is unfortunately often overlooked. Inclusion in NDCs ensures climate action fully embraces the opportunities that nature-based solutions offer. The value that coastal ecosystems provide as carbon sinks, coastline protection and for food security make them an important asset in a more ambitious revision of the NDCs.

Blue finance:

In many cases the right financing is missing to upscale successful projects. Following the emergence of the thriving green bonds market over the past decade, the relatively new concept of ‘sustainable blue finance’ holds great potential - with so much focus currently on climate and carbon finance. Blue finance is broadly defined as the investment in projects that restore and protect the ocean and support sustainable ocean economic activities.

The drive for carbon neutrality at company, sector and even national level could generate significant resources for activities such as ecosystem restoration that compensate for emissions. However, there is only a small window to make the most of this opportunity in the face of increasing pressure in the coastal domain. This pressure is due to population growth, expansion of cities, migration to coastal areas and competing land use issues.

Key initiatives:
And what is blue carbon? It is the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems – taken from the atmosphere and oceans and stored as "blue" carbon.

IUCN is working with many partners and members on sustainable coastal management around the world. Some of the key initiatives that have helped propel international action on blue carbon are below:
The Blue Carbon Initiative (BCI) is leading technical and policy analysis to inform adequate methodological and policy development.
The International Partnership on Blue Carbon (IPBC) is bringing together various governments and stakeholders to share lessons learned on national carbon accounting and leveraging project implementation.
Save our mangroves now! (SOMN!) is conducting carbon assessments and enhancing awareness and political action to conserve mangroves.
The Blue Natural Capital Financing Facility (BNCFF) is working with project developers, businesses and investors to advance bankable blue endeavours with clearer conservation and climate impacts.
The Blue Solutions Initiative is developing and establishing a global platform to collate, share and generate knowledge as well as to build capacity for sustainable management and equitable governance of our blue planet, including climate adaptation and mitigation measures and projects.

Since IUCN and its partners and members began dedicated work a decade ago, we have demonstrated the potential for sustainable coastal management to improve climate adaptation and seize sustainable carbon mitigation opportunities.

We invite you to take a journey through
10 key projects
initiated over the past
10 years
around the world.
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Project leads will also be available at the
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Kenya II