Blue carbon refers to carbon stored or sequestered in marine and coastal ecosystems including mangrove forests, tidal salt marshes and seagrass meadows, as well as coral reefs and oceanic carbon sinks in the form of marine algae. These habitats provide important ecosystem services (spawning habitat, defence against storms, nutrient cycling, pollination) and economic resources (livelihoods, and provision of food, materials and medicines) yet are largely unregarded in international climate change mitigation and adaptation frameworks. While there is considerable enthusiasm in the scientific and policy communities over the potential of blue carbon finance to support sustainability initiatives and local development, efforts to enact blue carbon project activities are severely constrained by a range of economic and social factors. Advocates of blue carbon consistently fail to understand the importance of blue carbon as an economic commodity, focusing largely on scientific uncertainty and governance issues.
In order to integrate blue carbon offset activities into global policy mechanisms, scientific methods are required to quantify the carbon storage and sequestration benefits of blue ecosystems. To facilitate the participation of communities in blue carbon project activities, critical and theoretical social science perspectives are needed to understand the constraints, opportunities, and drivers of engagement. Securing necessary financial resources and market engagement requires recognition of investment priorities and commercial imperatives. This study therefore requires the application of a transdisciplinary framework to explore the multi-dimensional nature of the emerging local-international carbon value network. Integrating a number of journal articles as key chapters, the thesis first considers the broad political economy of carbon in global markets, and then investigates the blue carbon value chain (or network) as a case study. This value network extends from ‘producers’ to ‘end users’, and the thesis examines the roles of actors and stakeholders using the tools and theoretical perspectives of institutional and ecological economics, political ecology, systems dynamics, and development studies. Understanding the institutional systems in which ecosystem-based carbon offsets operate, and the motivations of and constraints on the actors in those systems, will help to identify policy interventions and reforms that will facilitate the development and implementation of blue carbon activities.
The complex challenges of the 21st Century imply that transition to a resilient and sustainable global society will require new understandings of wealth and economic value, and new approaches to environmental governance. Blue carbon can be considered a ‘proxy’ for a range of outcomes – adaptation to climate change effects, support of food security and community development, and the building of social-ecological resilience in marine managed areas. As such, blue carbon is an ideal case study of the emerging models of local-to-global, multi-stakeholder, and cross-institutional business initiatives and development activities. This thesis develops a novel theoretical approach to carbon-oriented environmental management in the context of climate change policy and global markets, contributing to emerging theoretical perspectives and the development of innovative approaches to marine resource management and sustainable enterprise.