Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Mangrove carbon project has potential for voluntary market roll-out

A pioneering initiative will fund the protection and restoration of mangrove swamps by issuing voluntary carbon credits.

The Mikoko Pamoja project in the Gazi Bay area of Kenya, which was launched this week, covers 117 hectares of mangroves, which it estimate conserves about 2,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.

The project’s scale is tiny, but it is believed to be the first in Africa – and possibly the world – to generate offsets from protecting mangrove swampland, and could be used as a template for similar initiatives.

It is hoped that the project will generate about $12,000 a year for the local community, and NGO the Earthwatch Institute is planning to buy the credits from the first year of the project’s life to offset its own carbon emissions.

The emissions will be verified by Scottish charity Plan Vivo, which specialises in setting up small-scale carbon offsetting schemes in the developing world.

The generation of emissions reductions from mangrove swamps has been made possible by recent scientific discoveries that the swamps – which are found on the tropical coastline – store more underground carbon than terrestrial forests.

While mangroves account for just 0.7% of the area of tropical forests, they account for about 30% of all buried carbon, said Mark Huxham, a professor of environmental biology at Edinburgh Napier University who helped set up the project.

He said research has been carried out at the site that involved chopping down trees to study how much carbon was lost when they were removed.

“You can think of them as a peat bog with a forest on top,” he said. “We hope this scheme will help to preserve the mangroves in this area and will act as a template for wider schemes – there are lots of other areas in east Africa that would be suitable.”

The project will pay to protect the forests, which are being chopped down to provide building materials and firewood, and pay to plant seedlings in damaged areas.

Protecting the forests will also help conserve local fish stocks because the tree roots are a nursery for fry, shrimp and other types of wildlife. The forests also act as a natural coastal flood defence. And a third of the money raised by the scheme will be used to improve the provision of education and clean water.

These ‘co-benefits’ may help to make mangrove forest credits attractive in the voluntary market, if the initiative is rolled out more broadly.

The project was also developed by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, with backing from international NGOs including the Earthwatch Institute and the World Wildlife Fund, from UK insurer Aviva and from the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme.