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Blue carbon sounds nice… again

Our current Environment Minister, Sussan Ley (number four to try the job), has just reannounced, for the umpteenth time, our commitment to capturing blue carbon greenhouse gases in mangroves, marshes and seagrasses.

It’s a worthwhile endeavour, as it was when Julie Bishop made the same announcement in 2017. These systems are not just valuable because of the carbon they capture, they are valuable for a whole multitude of reasons around fisheries, around coastal protection, around supporting our marine biodiversity. But they are under threat.

Since European settlement in Australia, we’ve lost about 25% of our sea grasses, 50% of our tidal marshes, somewhere between 50% and 70% of our mangroves, and that loss is continuing. Estuaries and coastal wetlands have been filled in, drained off and dug up to make way for agriculture and urban development. Seagrass meadows and mangrove stands have been decimated by coastal development such as ports, marinas and sewerage outfalls.

Levies have been built for flood mitigation and to hold back the sea, killing mangroves and tidal marshes to turn them into pasture or some other sort of land use. Things like fish farms can damage seagrass meadows; they put nutrients into the water column, they shade the seagrass, and that can have a negative effect.

The government’s active encouragement of rampant development has exacerbated the problem but the potential of blue carbon faces a far greater threat from climate change.

For example, a heatwave event in Shark Bay in 2010 and 2011 caused the loss of about 1,000 km² of seagrass.

A UN oceans report published in 2019 said blue carbon would offset only about 2% of current global emissions and would not be an effective replacement for the “very rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions” required to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The report states that “[…] under high emission scenarios, sea level rise and warming are expected to reduce carbon sequestration by vegetated coastal ecosystems.” If emissions keep rising, the speed and scale of climate change will overwhelm blue carbon ecosystems’ ability to adapt. This problem will be compounded by “coastal squeeze” as rising seas butt up against human infrastructure, leaving coastal plants with shrinking habitats.

As is always the case, there are political motives for the government’s pretence at caring about blue carbon. With China’s increasing involvement in the Pacific, we have all of a sudden “stepped up” in announcing things supposedly to help our neighbours. Not only do we want to look like we care, we also want to claim/buy carbon credits for anything we do to protect their coastal vegetation.

As Oli Moraes from RMIT University observed:

Australia is essentially telling our Pacific neighbours, who are on the front line of climate change: “We will protect your coastal carbon sinks in the short term for international credit, while continuing to burn and export coal, oil and gas.”

In the long term, Pacific islands will be devastated and even destroyed by cyclones and storms. Because those mangroves won’t be able to adapt in time to the hot, acidic and rising seas.

Whilst we continue to champion fossil fuels, all other measures to combat climate change are fighting a losing battle.

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  1. Phil Pryor

    Corporate capitalism owns and rents politicians and governments, so that sleight of hand, corruption, donorships, patronage, deviousness, fraud, superficiality, camouflage, all can be organised, systemised, used for continuing profiteering. You can rent and recruit the Ley types to work on your behalf for the modern equivalent of beads and a mirror, so as to stall the essentials of protest, revision, opposition. lOut there in dummyland, the less interested are presently assessing footy and races chances. The planet is just too big and vague a concept. However a virus up your complacency sharpens attitudes and you realise, perhaps as you choke to death, that the individual is vulnerable, has been screwed and deceived. Too late for the individual is soon to be too late for all. Let us press for awareness and action, while denouncing and exposing the profiteers, the Sollys and Gerrys and miners and bankers who want others to carry burdens. Better, elect some leaders to actually lead, plan, deliver. The P M, a Putrid Mess, is hollow with superstitious self deception. Uselessly savage, primitive, incapable.

  2. Williambtm

    Well said, Phil.
    Phil Pryor for Prime Minister. No, I am not sarcastic; he is one sharp-eyed, totally aware patriot gentleman.
    Yes, I greatly admire your comment.

  3. Gangey1959

    The luvverly sussan ley. How can one tell when she is selling porkies? Her mouth is open.

    When are the idiots in cgharge going to be forced to understand that the carbon they are trying to capture is already caught. Just leave it in the fucking ground.

  4. skip


    As ever ardently and cogently argued. Cheers. But then we have . . . .

    “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal,” Emma Goldman (1869 – 1940).

    And today . . . . down down in Clorox Bleach Van Tasmania what do we have after the ‘voting’????

    And Australian Citizens are now CRIMINALS if they want to come home from India?????

  5. Baby Jewels

    I hear she changed her name from Susan to Sussan, Suss for short.

  6. New England Cocky

    @Phil Pryor: OK, I admit it ….. I am a long time supporter of the ideas promoted by Phil Pryor expressed so clearly and concisely that even ill-educated Nazional$ politicians could understand his policies.

  7. pierre wilkinson

    Surely there will now be another announcement that $2 billion will be allocated to climate mitigation strategies starting with a consortium of mining executives having another conference on how how to phase out coal towards a gas led revival…
    another fossil fuel idea from the party of fossil fools,
    but at least the $2 billion promised is what is left over from the bush fire fund, the flooding fund and the covid 19 vaccination fund, plus bonus savings from the cuts to NDIS, ABC, refuges and counselling services…
    though how they manage to spend so much on so few refugees
    so much on administration fees for their cashless welfare card system
    and so much in lavish self indulgence is another question

  8. Phil Pryor

    Thanks for misplaced kind remarks, but I’m just one of many Noisy Old Nongs hoping for better and believing we can contribute far more by illustrating, exhibiting, denouncing, exposing, fighting. Let us all keep that up. And, Skip, Emma Goldman was nearly always spot on. A corporate and political and financial ruling class is a horror, not as acute as the cliques under the adolfs, benitos, josefs, saddams, gaddafis and similar of our knowledge, but, egofixated and self seducing threats to the planet and all of us…

  9. Keith

    Trying for net zero is a mistake according to three The Conversation authors.They state between them that they have eighty years of being climate scientists between them. It is a long scary article, well worth reading. Anything Scomo comes up with in tackling climate change is meaningless on the scale that action is needed. Labor is not much better when taking into account the arguments stated in the article. Fossil fuels need to be left in the ground, full stop. There is already suggestions of using geo-engineering, be very worried should it be come to pass.

  10. David Evans

    So john howards carbon capture garbage resurfaces?…..Does manmade carbon capture storage work anywhere on the planet?

  11. Andrew J. Smith

    Without weighing up the pros and cons of focusing upon blue carbon capture nor questioning the science or efficacy, this seems more about keeping the fossil fuel delaying tactics rolling along….. anything to avoid constraints.

  12. wam

    I drive everyday through a mass of mangrove fortunately with a creek that provides the sea access needed. My family has often rallied to stymie the developers who want to kill the trees and build. So far the town has been successful but southerners will soon outnumber us then who knows. Technology has been around since ww2(electric trucks with a 100km range) but the coal/oil lobby has been too powerful and controlled ‘all’?? the development money for last 70 years??. But so did the smoking lobby and they lost when too many died this mob will lose when the kiwi glaciers visibly go. Let’s hope that is not too late.

  13. RosemaryJ36

    How do we shake people out of their apathy and fear of change?

  14. Consume Less

    As I ride my bike through the streets of Adelaide breathing in fumes from all those combustion engines, I’m thinking, bring on the electric car. How stupid of me to be so selfish, if we had electric cars the aussie weekend would be ruined (according to the LNP).

  15. John Hanna

    CCS has always been a pipe dream, a circular argument where you have to burn more coal to generate enough power to operate the process which in turn generates more CO2. All coal fired power stations would need to add a module on the end to undertake the process and in doing so absorb a significant portion of the power generated. The flue gas needs to be cooled, compressed to a liquid form and pumped to an I don’t know how big or deep underground reservoir from which it is never allowed to escape. The whole concept is a fallacy and ALL in the industry know it.

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