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June 28, 2023

Blue Carbon Trends and Initiatives in Japan

Blue Carbon Trends and Initiatives in Japan

Dwarf eelgrass

Japan is surrounded by ocean. There is growing momentum here for "blue carbon" initiatives, which can effectively address two of today's biggest issues--global warming and ocean restoration. Please read on to learn about the latest developments.

Japan is an archipelagic nation, surrounded by the sea.

Various issues involving the sea are being reported from all around the country, including sea desertification, loss of seaweed beds, decrease of fish catches, and other changes. The world's oceans face a critical situation, such as rising seawater temperatures due to global warming and ocean plastic pollution. Changes in the oceans affect not only fishermen, businesses dealing with marine products, and coastal communities, but also our diets.

Mitigating global warming and restoring the abundance of the oceans--these could be described as two of the most critical issues of our day. Can you think of an initiative aiming to address both of these issues at the same time?

It's known as "blue carbon"!

Afforestation is well known as a means to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Carbon stored in forests and land vegetation is called "green carbon." Just like plants on land, seagrass and seaweed absorb CO2 as they grow. The carbon stored in such marine ecosystems, including mangroves, seaweed and seagrass, is known as "blue carbon."

By regenerating mangroves and seaweed beds in the ocean, blue carbon initiatives restore the health of the ocean while increasing CO2 absorbed and stored in marine ecosystems, resulting in the mitigation of global warming. Such blue carbon initiatives are now spreading worldwide.

Seaweed beds, where seaweed and seagrass grow under the sea, not only absorb CO2 but also purify water and support marine biodiversity as spawning and nursery areas for marine life. They play a crucial role for industries such as fisheries and tourism, as well as for our diets.

Nowadays, blue carbon initiatives are gaining momentum in Japan too.

Blue carbon initiatives are mentioned, for example, in government policies such as the Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures, and the Green Growth Strategy Through Achieving Carbon Neutrality in 2050.

In April 2023, the Ministry of the Environment released the fiscal 2021 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report to the United Nations on Japan's national greenhouse gas emissions and absorption. For the first time, mangrove absorption in Japan's blue carbon ecosystems was calculated.

Besides the mangrove component calculated for the latest inventory, blue carbon ecosystems also include seagrass and seaweed beds and salt marshes. In the case of Japan, while mangroves (which are limited to the southern regions of Japan) are important, so are seaweed beds and wetlands, and nationwide efforts targeting them are both possible and necessary. Preparations are already under way for calculating carbon sinks in these ecosystems and reflecting them in the national inventory.

A crediting scheme for blue carbon has started as well. Based on a study group on the role of blue carbon in helping to mitigate global warming, established by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Japan Blue Economy Association (JBE) was established with ministerial approval in July 2020, and the J Blue Credit(R) scheme was launched in fiscal 2020.

In the same fiscal year, the first J Blue Credit(R) was certified and issued for a project in Japan. The next year, that project plus three more were certified and had credits issued.

The blue carbon projects in Japan until then were mostly organized by local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and businesses, and covered a relatively small area, such as seaweed beds consisting of seagrass or seaweed and salt marshes, generating up to a few dozen tons of credits. In fiscal 2022, however, three fishery associations working jointly with a town in Iwate Prefecture generated about 3,100 credits.

Being a country surrounded by the sea, it is no surprise that 39 out of 47 prefectures actually face the sea. For various reasons, a growing number of municipalities and communities are working on blue carbon projects in the cities and towns near the sea. Over 900 municipalities in Japan have made zero carbon declarations and some of them see blue carbon projects as part of their decarbonization initiatives. Others hope to revitalize fishing towns, and still others see projects as fun ways to involve residents, including youth, in environmental activities and education.

More and more businesses are also implementing blue carbon initiatives. One example is the use of the J Blue Credit(R) to offset carbon emissions as part of their decarbonization efforts, drawing attention to curbing global warming and restoring the abundance of the ocean. Some businesses are showing a growing interest in blue carbon to create new business models or launch new projects. Many companies are also exploring the possibilities of using their resources and technologies for the creation and measurement of blue carbon.

Many players, such as the national government, local municipalities, businesses, NGOs, and citizen groups, are attracted to blue carbon and have already started or are planning their own projects.

Miraisozobu (dba For Future Company, which Junko Edahiro serves as president), a company based in Atami City, Shizuoka Prefecture, launched the Japan Blue Carbon Network in November 2021 to more broadly promote blue carbon initiatives and share knowledge and technologies. It was certified as a non-profit organization in 2022.

Around the world, the blue carbon in seaweed and seagrass has been gaining attention. Japan is in a position to share its abundant technologies and knowledge relating to seaweed resources. The Japan Blue Carbon Network hopes to connect the efforts and developments in Japan with those in the rest of the world.

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