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Reuters
25 February 2010

Poor nations could be paid to preserve marine CO2: U.N.

Edited by David Fogarty
 
(Reuters) - Developing countries could in future earn money from reducing carbon emissions by protecting oceans and marine ecosystems, a top U.N. official said on Thursday.

Sea grasses, mangroves and salt marshes naturally store huge amounts of carbon but this is released as greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, when wetlands are drained or disturbed.

The head of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Achim Steiner, said a combination of public and private funds could be used to pay poor countries to repair and preserve carbon-rich marine environments.

"Do I believe that one day we might see a market for ocean-based carbon storage? I would say, at this point, why not?," Steiner told reporters at a UNEP conference in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali.

He said the scheme could be modeled on reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), a U.N.-backed scheme under which developing countries would be paid for protecting and enhancing their forests.

REDD has been a central part of U.N. climate negotiations over the past two years, becoming one of the few areas to make substantial progress as nations try to agree on the outlines of a broader climate pact that would include steps to save forests.

REDD has attracted a lot of support because it could potentially unlock billions of dollars in carbon offset sales for developing nations to save remaining areas of rainforest that soak up large amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

Forests, oceans and adjoining marine ecosystems are like the lungs of the atmosphere. But the more they are damaged or destroyed, the less they can brake the pace of global warming, scientists say. The trick is creating market mechanisms that put a price on the value of carbon to encourage their preservation.

RACE TO CAPTURE CARBON

"I assure you, the world will be increasingly searching for ways in which it can expand the planet`s capacity to capture, sequester and store carbon," said Steiner.

"If we can create the parameters around which to measure the value of maintaining marine ecosystems and their net benefit to the international community, then the analogy that is applied with forest and land degradation would apply equally to marine conservation."

UNEP and the Indonesian government on Thursday jointly launched a global research project on marine carbon storage. Initial results are expected before major U.N. climate talks in Mexico at the end of the year, the follow-up to last December`s Copenhagen summit.

Indonesia`s fisheries minister, Fadel Muhammad, said that $1 million had been set aside for the study and more was expected from UNEP and other governments.

Steiner said carbon capture and storage (CCS) was an unnecessary gamble. Many big carbon emitting nations are looking at CCS as a way to capture the CO2 from coal-burning power stations and other big polluting operations and pump it underground.

While the technology is evolving and expensive, it remains uncertain if it will work when used widely around the globe.

"Nature, over millions of years, has perfected carbon capture and storage in our eco-systems," Steiner said.

"So as we spend billions of dollars right now looking for a technology to capture and store carbon back underground, we are neglecting the fact that nature`s systems, in fact, turn what is a problem into an asset."