Blue Carbon economy

Over the past decade, India has shown commendable leadership in the global climate action space.

Blue Carbon economy

Representation image

Over the past decade, India has shown commendable leadership in the global climate action space. In November 2021, at the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference, India committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. In October 2022, India launched ‘Mission LiFE (Lifestyle and Environment)’, a global movement promoting circular economy principles through environmentally responsible individual and collective action.

Since 2015, India has been leading global initiatives like the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Mission Innovation (MI) that endorse the transition to a clean energy pathway. Besides, India has been an active member of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) First Movers Coalition (FMC), which aims to accelerate the decarbonization of hard-to-abate sectors like heavy industry and long-distance transport. India’s Third National Communication to the UNFCCC shows that between 2005-2019, while GDP grew at a cumulative annual rate of 7 per cent, the emissions rate increased by only 4 per cent per annum, implying a 33 per cent reduction in GDP emission intensity.

Thus, India appears to be well on track to meet the revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) target of 45 per cent (reduction in emission intensity) by 2030. With a multitude of initiatives like the Hydrogen Energy Mission, FAME II scheme, Pradhan Mantri Suryodaya Yojana, vehicle scrappage policy, etc., India will hopefully meet its other climate action commitments on time. One strategy that has received scant attention in India’s climate action portfolio and holds particular promise is the “blue carbon” initiative.


Blue carbon, which refers to the carbon captured and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal marshes, offers a promising avenue for climate action with multiple co-benefits. For example, mangroves are considered highly efficient carbon sinks and, by various estimates, can store 5 to 10 times more carbon than “green carbon” terrestrial rainforests and absorb it from the atmosphere three times as quickly, too. Seagrasses are equally efficient and can sequester CO2 at rates comparable to tropical forests. India’s vast coastline, which spans over 7,516 km and touches 13 states and UTs, hosts diverse marine habitats that play a significant role in carbon sequestration. According to the latest Forest Survey Report (FSR), India’s total mangrove cover stretches 4,992 sq km. Worryingly, though, researchers predict a 50 per cent reduction in mangrove cover by 2070, affected by rapid urbanization, aquaculture expansion, and industrial development. Some signs are already evident.

The dense mangrove cover in the Sunderbans has declined from 1038 sq km in 2011 to 994 sq km in 2021. Kerala has lost nearly 98 per cent of its mangrove forests in the past five decades ~ from 700 sq km in 1975 to just 17 sq km in 2022. Reversing this trend by investing in mangrove restoration and conservation efforts can reduce carbon emissions and yield substantial climate benefits for India. From an economic perspective, blue carbon ecosystems can offer several benefits, underscoring their value beyond carbon storage.

By some estimates, mangrove ecosystems have the potential to avert over $65 billion in property damage annually and lower flood risks for approximately 15 million individuals, thereby safeguarding lives and livelihoods from the impacts of adverse climate events. Research indicates that mangroves can reduce wave heights by up to 66 per cent, thus not only acting as natural buffers against extreme weather events but also helping reduce the economic damage caused by coastal hazards such as tsunamis.

Besides, these ecosystems serve as breeding grounds for numerous commercially important fish species, thus providing support for fisheries and livelihoods. Safeguarding and restoring the blue carbon ecosystem is, therefore, an urgent imperative as this will enhance India’s resilience to climate change impacts and lower adaptation costs in the long term. Globally, blue carbon credits have become a popular tool for offsetting carbon emissions, particularly in the shipping and aviation industries, which have a significant impact on coastal ecosystems.

India can ill-afford to overlook this opportunity. Only a few states, like Tamil Nadu, have taken a proactive approach, providing budgetary support to restore and preserve coastal ecosystems. Recently, the state has set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) called the Tamil Nadu Blue Carbon Agency under the aegis of the Tamil Nadu Coastal Restoration Mission, allocating Rs.1,675 crore over the next five years for the purpose. The state government has partnered with the World Bank in this initiative, which will also likely create a framework for trading carbon credits benefiting the local communities and the state.

From a policy perspective, relying on fragmented initiatives will only minimally unlock the vast potential of blue carbon distributed along India’s extensive coastline. Concerted and coordinated policy thrust is an urgent imperative, both at the national and sub-national levels. Greater investment and budgetary support are needed to scale up blue carbon initiatives nationwide. This shall, however, require integrating the blue carbon agenda into national climate policies, including coastal zone management plans and environmental impact assessments.

Fiscally incentivizing blue carbon conservation and restoration programmes and fostering partnerships with stakeholders across sectors will also be crucial. Besides, enhancing financial support for blue carbon projects through innovative financing mechanisms such as climate finance, carbon markets, and public-private partnerships will be critical. All of this warrants a unified National Mission for a Blue-Carbon Economy, which will establish actionable and measurable objectives to drive impactful climate action at the national level. Experience of countries like Australia, Indonesia, and Cuba, which contribute the largest positive net blue wealth globally, can offer important lessons for India.

Fostering and leveraging international collaborations can facilitate exchange of knowledge, transfer of technology, and enhancement of capacity in conserving and managing blue carbon. Investing in and promoting blue carbon initiatives will be a pragmatic approach to expanding India’s climate action portfolio. By harnessing the carbon sequestration potential of its expansive coastal ecosystems, India can mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity, enhance coastal resilience, and promote sustainable livelihoods. This will also strengthen India’s leadership position in the global climate action space.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Economics Area, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ranchi. Views are personal)