In an article published in the open access journal Sustainability, researchers discussed novel pathways for incorporating blue carbon in the China Certified Emission Reductions (CCER) scheme and policy framework, helping the nation achieve its 2060 carbon neutrality goal.
Study: How to Incorporate Blue Carbon into the China Certified Emission Reductions Scheme: Legal and Policy Perspectives. Image Credit: Shibinvk/Shutterstock.com
Carbon sequestration in vegetated coastal ecosystems, commonly called blue carbon, offers a viable and effective strategy for addressing climate change. Numerous nations around the globe have committed to incorporating blue carbon into their climate change laws and policies.
China, a significant carbon emitter, has an abundance of blue carbon deposits but also experiences a massive loss of coastal habitats. Hence, this study demonstrated the urgent need to include blue carbon in China's carbon trading market, given the success of terrestrial biosequestration initiatives.
A critical analysis of the several legal factors which might arise in the blue carbon implementation project was conducted, which provided some feasible solutions. Thus (i) the development of dedicated methodologies for blue carbon projects, (ii) demarcation of special zones by the national marine functional zoning for blue carbon projects, (iii) securing legal rights over the use of sea areas, (iv) extending the project and crediting periods for the blue carbon projects, and (v) appropriate adjustment of the additionality requirements, were identified as some of the significantly viable solutions.
About the Study
Carbon neutrality is the balance between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by the sources and removals by the sinks. Activities related to agriculture, forestry, and other land uses (AFOLU) are necessary for achieving carbon neutrality since they result in both sources and sinks of carbon dioxide (CO2). For example, managing forests, croplands, wetlands, and grasslands are some anthropogenic land use activities that can take CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Contrarily, CO2 is released into the atmosphere through decomposition, plant respiration, soil organic matter release, and combustion of dead plant biomass. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, the natural and managed terrestrial ecosystems absorbed about one-third of CO2 emissions from 2010 to 2019. Hence, AFOLU activities are crucial for carbon biosequestration.
Until recently, most biosequestration science and policy have focused on terrestrial ecosystems. However, the planet's most excellent carbon sinks are the ocean's vegetated habitats. Even though mangroves, seagrass meadows, salt marshes, and other ocean-vegetated ecosystems make up only 0.05% of the biomass of terrestrial plants, they have an annual capacity for carbon storage that is comparable to that of terrestrial plants. They store as much carbon as 50% of global transportation emissions.
The preservation and restoration of these ecosystems that form the earth's blue carbon sink can balance three to seven percent of the current fossil fuel emission within 20 years. Thus, blue carbon signifies the carbon sequestered and stored in seagrass meadows, salt marshes, and mangroves.
Including blue carbon in the climate change policy and legal framework is essential for China for two reasons- (i) to support the preservation of blue carbon ecosystems and (ii) to better balance China’s terrestrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Specifically, China has a coastline of about 32,000 km which includes its islands. Blue carbon ecosystems like salt marshes, mangroves, seagrass meadows, and seaweed farms cover approximately 3000 km2 along the coastline.
At present, blue carbon has not been integrated into the CCER scheme. Incorporating blue carbon into the CCER plan will not demand substantial reconstruction of the current climate change policy and legal framework. Additionally, applying the CCER plan to terrestrial biosequestration projects will provide an initial legal framework for incorporating blue carbon projects.
This paper addressed the issue of incorporating blue carbon into the CCER strategy. It further provided some feasible solutions to counter any potential legal obstacles that might arise while employing the CCER scheme in the blue carbon projects.
According to the legal instruments mentioned in the policy framework, the CCER scheme consisted of three steps, including- (i) the approval of CCER projects, (ii) the registration of CCERs, and (iii) the offsetting and trading of CCERs.
A CCER project used a suitable methodology approved by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The rights to the blue carbon sinks within the project border were created once the project boundaries were determined. In other words, the blue carbon ecosystems were required to be legally owned by the project owner.
For initiatives involving terrestrial biosequestration, four techniques were developed. Specifically, there were several methods for afforestation, bamboo afforestation, forest management, and bamboo management projects. However, blue carbon initiatives could not use these approaches since the projects under blue carbon required eligible lands or lands that did not qualify as wetlands.
Several important factors were considered for incorporating blue carbon initiatives into the CCER program. The major factors discussed in this paper were based on five critical aspects.
Thus (i) the development of dedicated approaches for blue carbon projects under a broader scope of carbon abatement activities, (ii) delineation of specialized zones under the new national marine functional zoning dedicated to blue carbon initiatives,(iii) obtaining and safeguarding the legal rights of the blue carbon project owners to utilize sea regions, (iv) appropriate adjustments of the additionality requirements for the blue carbon projects, and (v) extending the project and crediting periods of the blue carbon projects were identified as the most viable solutions to incorporate blue carbon into the CCER scheme.
The significant contribution of blue carbon towards carbon sequestration and the declaration of the 2060 carbon neutrality target has demanded the urgent incorporation of blue carbon into China's legal and policy framework for climate change.
This paper demonstrated the means to incorporate blue carbon into the CCER system. The incorporation of blue carbon into the CCER scheme would not require a significant redesign of the current legislative framework, according to the assessment of the legal framework of the CCER scheme. Additionally, the CCER scheme's successful implementation in the terrestrial biosequestration project suggested the possibility of success in marine biosequestration projects.
However, the fundamental and considerable differences between marine and terrestrial ecosystems necessitated a re-examination of some key CCER scheme components.
Five primary aspects were suggested as practical solutions to the legal issues that might arise in applying the CCER scheme to blue carbon projects. These solutions primarily included- (i) specialized techniques for blue carbon projects, (ii) delineation of special zones by the new national marine functional zoning for developing blue carbon projects, (iii) obtaining the legal right to utilize marine regions to develop blue carbon projects, (iv) proper modification of the additionality standards, and (v) extended project and crediting periods for the blue carbon projects.
The researchers believe that the solutions discussed in this paper would present fresh avenues for incorporating blue carbon into China's climate change laws and policies, helping the nation achieve its 2060 carbon neutrality target.
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Li, X.-W., Miao, H.-Z. (2022). How to Incorporate Blue Carbon into the China Certified Emission Reductions Scheme: Legal and Policy Perspectives. Sustainability, 14(17), 10567. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/14/17/10567