Exploring the Opportunity for Pakistan to include Blue Carbon into revised NDCs
Pakistan is gifted with a 1,046-kilometer-long coastline along the Arabian Sea shared by Sindh and Balochistan provinces with rich marine life biodiversity. The coastline, which houses the major metropolitan centers of Karachi and Gwadar, is rich in natural potential. It is home to wetlands such as delta marshes and mangroves; seagrasses; small patches of coral reef; sea turtles, dolphins and porpoises; and a rich bird fauna, especially migratory species. Despite this huge potential for blue economy, the maritime sector only contributes about 0.4 percent to the country’s GDP.
The Pakistani coast has, though, been exposed to negative environmental impacts from thermal pollution, increased oil spills, tarballs, and plastic and toxic effluents, including heavy metals. With the advent of new economic activities in the region under the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, there remains an urgent need for coherent and cross-sectoral strategies to harness the economic benefits for structural transformation in the face of climate change. A blue carbon strategy and target in national policies will provide a foundation for sustainable stewardship of the oceans.
For the year 2020, the incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan has announced a ‘Blue Economy Policy’ for the country, aiming to revitalize the existing shipping sector as well as to utilize and enable the transformation of potentially untapped sectors. This policy aligns with changing national priorities, incentivizing further development and promoting the inclusion of measures in Pakistan’s national policies to fight against climate change and ensure multiple long-term successes.
Blue carbon is carbon stored by the ocean, and the main players are coastal wetlands (i.e. mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrasses). These ecosystems are the most efficient natural carbon sinks, sequestering carbon faster than terrestrial forests and locking down carbon in their soils for centuries and/or millennia. Thus, they play a huge role in fighting climate change.
Pakistan’s first NDC in 2016 did not identify blue carbon ecosystem strategies or plans to leverage this potential. As Pakistan works to enhance its climate commitments and revise its NDC with support from NDC Partnership and other partners, there is an opportunity to explore blue carbon potential. In fact, the Partnership’s country facilitator supported the design of the concept for integrating blue carbon in the NDC revision process, and the World Bank is now supporting the Ministry of Climate Change as it maps Pakistan’s blue carbon potential and plans an evidence-based future course of action for sustainable management of these ecosystems. Pakistan expects to include these ecosystems in NDCs to benefit from the additional services they provide, including coastal protection, wildlife habitat, and water filtration.
“Blue carbon is a powerful weapon in the fight against climate change,” said Peter Macreadie from the Blue Carbon Lab at Australia’s Deakin University. “Pakistan has an abundance of blue carbon waiting to be discovered and reported. Our challenge is to figure out how and where to act to protect and bolster blue carbon opportunities.”
The World Bank plans to estimate Pakistan’s first-pass potential of blue carbon stocks, creating a roadmap to guide future blue carbon research and opportunities. Through this, Pakistan envisions gaining value from blue carbon in a plethora of ways that can be beneficial for the health of the climate and the ocean. This roadmap will address:
- Missed mitigation opportunities: Pakistan’s mangrove forests comprise four species and are mainly found in the Indus Delta. By conserving existing mangroves and restoring this ecosystem where it has been degraded, Pakistan has a unique opportunity to apprehend this untapped mitigation potential by effectively managing wetlands along with the initiatives already underway for ecosystem restoration in the region.
- Protecting vulnerable communities: Mangroves and fish stocks are a valuable living natural resource, particularly for the livelihood of local communities in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. These resources have been the victim of over-utilization and mismanagement, rendering Pakistan’s coastal communities highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. A range of ecosystem services can be derived from coastal restoration and management including coastal protection (as mangroves are five times more potent defenses than the engineered infrastructure), water filtration, fisheries, livelihood for people living in the vicinity, and tourism. This will serve as an adaptation measure with multiple co-benefits for vulnerable coastal communities.
- Urban Flooding: The 2020 Karachi flooding and its aftermath present an ominous picture with regards to urban flooding. Mangrove plantations are considered valuable coastal guards to protect nearby villages and human habitations. A well-managed coastal region can significantly reduce the damages incurred due to such natural calamities and can help restore balance with nature in the region. A blue carbon initiative can significantly help with the efficient management of such natural resources and also reduce the impact of climate-related catastrophes in the region.
- Financial flows: Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, several financing mechanisms support nature-based solutions to climate change, including the Green Climate Fund. Therefore, including these sinks in national inventories will provide Pakistan with suitable avenues for a better accounting of coastal ecosystems and incentivize financial flows to coastal blue carbon interventions.
Endorsing and internalizing the blue carbon strategy into the revised NDCs will help Pakistan send a clear signal of its intent towards accepting support in its agenda for capacity building, leading to a better implementation of blue carbon solutions. Pakistan’s coastal zones have been heavily exploited in the past because of their rich resources; thus, a holistic approach is required to tackle this problem while realizing the enormous potential of the blue carbon economy.
Blue carbon ecosystems can contribute to a country’s commitments to achieve their NDCs’ climate change goals. For the viability of blue carbon, strategically designed policies and field projects are vital. Moreover, they have the potential to facilitate the development of interventions to build local and national capacities. This will require a national-level accounting of carbon stocks and emissions from Pakistan’s blue carbon ecosystems.
Based on this accounting, ecosystem management can be increased effectively by protecting identified ecosystems. This initiative to analyze blue carbon stock potential will also help develop tailored strategies to best map and quantify blue carbon opportunities, enabling a better implementation of national policies in Pakistan’s fight against climate change.
This blog was written by Syeda Hadika Jamshaid, NDC Partnership Facilitator for Pakistan, with valuable input from Dr Micheli Duarte de Paula Costa, Expert on spatial analysis and blue carbon, Deakin University, Australia.