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 Young people swimming and canoeing

Protecting coastal habitats to mitigate against climate change in Vanuatu

2012 - 2013
The Commonwealth has been working with the Government of Vanuatu to assess how protecting coastal habitats can work towards climate change mitigation and adaptation - the first assessment of its kind in the South Pacific region.

Dr Julian Roberts, an Ocean Governance Adviser in the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Economic and Legal Section, said: “Coastal habitats play a critical role in climate regulation through the storage and sequestration of carbon. Mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses remove atmospheric carbon and incorporate it, along with trapped plant materials, into their soils (collectively known as coastal ‘blue carbon’).

“Management of coastal ecosystems also preserves and enhances biodiversity, protects coastal communities from natural hazards, and provides food from fisheries, thereby supporting the livelihoods of coastal communities.”

Despite their importance, these blue carbon ecosystems are being degraded and destroyed at an unprecedented rate. One way to counter this, and thereby conserve the carbon stored in these habitats, is to recognise the true ‘carbon value’ of coastal ecosystems and take this into account when developing coastal habitats.

Commonwealth response: 

The Commonwealth Secretariat contracted Professor Dan Laffoley, an international expert on blue carbon, to assist in the completion of a blue carbon scoping study. The study commenced in August 2012 and included a number of visits to Vanuatu by the Secretariat to visit key coastal sites and to meet with government officials, experts and community stakeholders. 

The Secretariat released its first country-specific blue carbon scoping and feasibility study at a meeting of Vanuatu’s National Advisory Board on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction.


The final report explores the opportunities that recognising blue carbon could bring to Vanuatu and  sets out the supportive arguments and potential barriers around implementing blue carbon as part of their overall climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy. The report makes 12 major recommendations stemming from this analysis and the overall net positive effect that would be achieved from implementing a blue carbon initiative in a gradual (stepwise) approach, in isolation, or with other countries in the region.

Given that a number of other Commonwealth countries in the Pacific also have significant coastal ‘blue carbon’ habitats, this report may act as a blueprint for studies elsewhere in the Pacific and more widely.

The Commonwealth Secretariat will work with the Government of Vanuatu and other international development agencies to secure funding to fully implement the recommendations made in the report.

The Commonwealth Secretariat provides legal and technical advisory services concerning maritime boundaries, ocean governance and natural resources to member countries throughout the Commonwealth.


Government of Vanuatu