UN environmental experts Thursday issued an urgent call to study the crucial role the oceans -- as massive carbon stores -- can play in the fight against global warming.
UN environmental experts Thursday issued an urgent call to study the crucial role the oceans - as massive carbon stores - can play in the fight against global warming.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the "Blue Carbon" initiative together with the Indonesian government Thursday on the resort island of Bali.
"A global scientific study of the role of marine and coastal ecosystems in meeting the climate change challenges is urgently needed in order to improve understanding," UNEP director Achim Steiner said on the sidelines of the gathering of climate experts and environment ministers.
"There is now growing evidence that marine and coastal ecosystems, such as sea grasses, mangroves and salt marshes, may play an important role in climate mitigation," he said.
Unlike when dealing with emissions from land, scientists have said a lack of knowledge on how oceans and climate interact means discussions on including oceans in a future global climate agreement are at an early stage.
"It is estimated that the equivalent of half the world's transport emissions may be sequestered by marine ecosystems," said Steiner.
"Combined with reducing emissions from deforestation, the restoration of these ecosystems could deliver up to 25 percent of the emissions reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change," by limiting warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), he said.
The increasing appreciation of the importance of the seas and oceans, which cover more than 70 of the Earth's surface, can be compared with the growing interest in the climate role of forests 10 years ago, according to experts at the Bali meeting.
The latter led to the launching of the partnership to reduce emissions from deforestation discussed at the climate summit in Copenhagen in December.
In a report published last year, the UNEP and other UN agencies warned that "marine vegetated habitats rank amongst the most threatened habitats in the biosphere with global loss rates two to 15 times faster than that of tropical forests."
Stressing the need for urgency, the report said that since the middle of the 20th century, more than 30 percent of mangroves, nearly 25 percent of marshes and more than 30 percent of underwater "meadows" have been destroyed, primarily due to human activity.
These marine vegetation habitats, which cover less than 1.0 percent of the seabed, are responsible for more than half of the carbon sequestration in oceanic sediments, according to the report, titled "Blue Carbon, the role of healthy oceans in binding carbon."
Steiner said the Blue Carbon initiative was going to require support, particularly financial, from the UN, countries and international research agencies.
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