Blue carbon | Episode 1 from Environmental Justice Foundation on Vimeo.

It’s no secret that the protection of our natural environment is a key component in our battle against climate change, and from, you know, the earth turning into an uninhabitable ball of burning death.

It’s only now that we’re understanding just how important the ocean is in this equation. 71 percent of the earth’s surface is covered in water, so yeah, it kinda makes sense.  

It has just been announced that more than 3,000 scientists, politicians, public figures and others have added their names to an open letter that calls for the protection and restoration of ocean and coastal ecosystems to be included in climate policy. The letter, which is led by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and supported by 66 partner NGOs, will be presented to governments around the world in September ahead of the COP26 climate talks.

Protecting the ‘blue carbon’ contained in thriving ocean ecosystems is a golden opportunity, the letter says. Marine stores globally contain around 49 times the amount of carbon as is in the atmosphere and more than half of biological carbon is captured by marine wildlife.

However, it is a major risk if left unprotected, and is currently neglected in climate policy. The current annual loss of seagrass is estimated to release around 299 million tonnes of carbon every year, and for coastal wetlands that figure rises to 450 million tonnes.

Climate, ocean and human rights experts have been joined by surfers, sailors and artists – including Team Great Britain Olympic surfers Ellie Turner and Lucy Campbell, actor Joanna Lumley, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, wildlife film maker Gordon Buchanan. MPs from the UK, Germany, Taiwan, Indonesia and the European Parliament, as well as sustainable businesses, such as Triodos Bank, have added their support.

The letter urges national leaders to:

1. Include specific, legally binding targets to protect and restore blue carbon environments in their updated Nationally Determined Contribution implementation plans.

2. Commit to the 30x30 ocean protection plan and designate 30% of the ocean as ecologically representative marine protected areas by 2030

3. Agree an international moratorium on deep sea mining to protect the deep sea from irreversible, large-scale harm.

Blue carbon is in every part of the marine ecosystem, from the coasts, where mangrove forests store up to four times more carbon per hectare than tropical rainforests and seagrass meadows store nearly 20 gigatonnes of carbon worldwide, to the open sea, where the great whales sequester huge amounts of carbon each year.

Executive Director of EJF Steve Trent, says: “The ocean gives us every second breath we take, and absorbs around a third of the CO2 we pump out. Nature-based solutions like restoration and protection of marine habitats will both help us meet global decarbonisation goals and prevent the worst impacts of global heating while also protecting the lives and livelihoods of the 3 billion people who depend on marine biodiversity around the world. Our political leaders must recognise the urgency of the climate crisis and take truly bold, transformative action to reach a global zero carbon economy.”

Professor Paval Kabat, IPCC assessment reports lead author and inaugural research director of the UN World Meteorological Organization says: “The ocean is a central, vital part of our climate system, and it must be recognised and protected as such. The capture and storage of carbon by marine ecosystems is an immensely valuable service. Tackling climate change requires a holistic 'systems approach', recognising that both our marine and terrestrial ecosystems play crucial roles, as well as every part of our society." 

Now, if only we could get our friends in the Australian Parliament to pull their heads out and get on board. We’ll just have to wait and see how the letter goes down when it’s presented at the COP26 talks in September.