Cabinet Secretary announces new blue carbon initiative at international conference

November 12, 2021 by No Comments | Category Blue Carbon, Marine Directorate general, Scottish Blue Carbon Forum

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands Mairi Gougeon made opening remarks at an international Blue Carbon Conference held in Edinburgh on 11 November. In her speech she announced the Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge, which will provide funding for up to five projects in 2022. 


As COP26 draws to a close, it feels fitting that we turn our attention from what is above us in the air and below us in the land, to what lies beneath us in our seas and oceans.

I am particularly pleased that in two firsts, this international blue carbon conference is being held at the same time as the UN climate conference, hosted by Scotland.

I know many of you have advocated tirelessly through your work for the ocean to be included in UN level climate discussions. It has been encouraging, during COP26, to see increased attention paid to the role of the ocean in climate change mitigation and adaptation and to hear of new commitments for ocean protection, for finance and investment, and for international partnerships. This conference taking place today and tomorrow is a further sign that you are winning the argument.

We are proud of the role that Scotland is playing on the world stage in leading on climate ambition and in ensuring that how we adapt to climate change and mitigate its impacts is founded on science and an evidence based approach.

We have a long marine and maritime heritage in this regard – we have been involved in monitoring the oceans for well over 100 years; a Canadian-Scot is considered to be the father of modern oceanography; the first marine laboratory in the UK was established here in Edinburgh; and it was a Scot who first circumnavigated Antarctica.

The wealth of resource that lives in our seas has long fascinated us and that heritage is reflected in the range of marine related subjects taught and researched at our universities and research institutes today.

I am particularly pleased that today’s conference is being attended by people from all over the world. We all know that climate change is a global issue that requires a global effort to tackle it. No one country can do this alone

It also needs collaboration, which is why this conference is so important and timely. The UN Decades on Ecosystem Restoration and on Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, running from 2021 to 2030, provide impetus and opportunity to come together, learn from each other and advance our knowledge on how we might act to address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Scottish Blue Carbon Forum

The work of the Scottish Blue Carbon forum is a key example of what can be achieved together.

The Forum has supported the development of the evidence base for a better understanding of blue carbon in Scotland and the building of our science capacity in this field. It has ensured that we are also investing in the next generation of experts through a cohort of early career researchers, many of whom are here today and are responsible for the infographics on show.

The Forum has helped Scotland play a leading role on the blue carbon stage – delivering significant contributions to our understanding of blue carbon habitats in Scotland and in the UK.

I’m proud that the Forum’s map of resources was the first of its kind for the UK, highlighting the significance of saltmarsh and seagrass in Scotland for trapping and storing carbon, as well as its climate adaptation potential as sea levels continue to rise.

It is also helping us to better understand the human and environmental factors that impact the ability of the ocean to capture and store carbon.

To everyone who has been involved since Scotland’s Blue Carbon Forum was founded in 2018 – thank you. Your work has never been more vital, more necessary or more urgent.

And that is why, we have committed £150,000 to support the establishment of specialist blue carbon research in Scotland through the Nature Restoration Fund, so your work can continue and also to grow.

We have made clear too our policy commitment to the health and wellbeing of the seas around Scotland.

Through our shared policy programme with the Scottish Greens, we have set out our vision for Scotland’s marine environment.

It should be clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse, and managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people.

In this Parliament, we will make a step change in marine protection. 37% of our seas are already designated as marine protected areas and we will designate at least 10% as highly protected marine areas by 2026.

Protecting blue carbon will be one of the criteria for selecting sites for these HMPAs and clearly the mapping work the forum has done will be vital to help us deliver this commitment.

Audience in main room at Blue Carbon Conference hear from Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands Mairi Gougeon

Mairi Gougeon MSP speaking at the Blue Carbon Conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Importance of the Ocean in climate change

You of all people don’t need me to tell of the vital role oceans have to play as carbon stores – in Scotland we estimate that our seas store as much carbon as all our land sources. The same will be true of other countries – and through your work in your own countries and collaboratively, we are all beginning to realise the potential that seas and oceans have to help solve our climate and nature crises.

But we must not forget the harm that is being done to marine and coastal habitats by human behaviour, which undermine the ability of the ocean to take and store carbon.

Crucially, we are seeing more countries realise this by including marine nature based solutions in their Nationally Determined Contributions and making commitments to conserve, manage and restore their coastal wetlands.

Scotland’s indicative Nationally Determined Contribution, published in July, includes blue carbon and through the research of the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum and work across the UK, we are building the evidence base so that saltmarsh and seagrass can be included in the UK Greenhouse Gas inventory. This will be a step change in how blue carbon is viewed and critical to attract future investment and in driving restoration.

International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC)

International collaboration is key to our future success. In fact the interconnectedness and interdependency of the ocean habitat is a great symbol of the need to work together.

This is why I was so pleased to accept the invitation for the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum to join the International Partnership for Blue Carbon or ‘the IPBC’ as its 50th member at an event at the Australia Pavilion on Nature Day of COP26.

International and multi-disciplinary partnerships like the IPBC are vital in harnessing the international effort to understand blue carbon habitats, to drive global commitment and improve policies to protect and restore blue carbon habitats.

The IPBC will help us all exchange and benefit from global experience and expertise on research and policy. But knowledge exchange can only ever be one part of the equation – we also need to use research to identify and create solutions and critically, to take action to put those solutions into effect.

Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge

This Scottish Government, in which I am honoured to lead on the blue economy, is wholly committed to this work.

So I can announce today a new initiative – the Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge. It will be led by the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum and provide seed funding for up to five blue carbon policy challenge projects in 2022.

These projects will seek to establish blueprints for international and domestic policy action post-COP26, building momentum to turn research findings into action on the ground which help protect and restore our seas and oceans.

Clearly, we want to ensure the Challenge will deliver actions here in Scotland but our aim is also to raise global ambition for blue carbon mitigation and adaption actions.

And we will seek to continue working collaboratively, with all of you, in particular through the IPBC, the Blue Carbon Initiative and with new UK groups – the proposed cross-UK Blue Evidence Partnership and the UK Blue Carbon Forum – to shape the development of our Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge.

We are especially keen to create opportunities for new partnerships with countries that we have not yet worked with, and who might benefit the most from collaboration – those nations perhaps with the most to lose from the impacts of climate change, not least their very existence, but without the wealth of science resource we are privileged to have here in Scotland.

Scotland has been at the front of the pack on blue carbon science, and now we want to share that for the benefit of us all.


It is clear we face a nervous couple of days as we await the final outcome of these COP26 negotiations. The Scottish Government is clear that we need bold action and commitments from world leaders and nation states. We are at a critical juncture. You see that every day in your work and in your concern for what is happening in and to our seas and oceans.

But we cannot and should not be bystanders, waiting for our fate to be handed to us.

You have shown that, by developing the science and evidence base on blue carbon, we can find solutions. Your work will ensure that our global ocean will feature more prominently on the UNFCCC’s agenda.

And we are showing here in Scotland – through initiatives like the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum and now the Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge – that we can help forge our own destiny in responding to climate change and nature loss.

I hope in the next two days at this incredible and vital blue carbon conference, that you apply your enthusiasm and expertise to identifying the issues, finding the solutions and creating the momentum on blue carbon that will allow us all to ensure that the destiny for our seas and our oceans is a positive one.

Professor Marcel Jaspars (VP-International, RSE), Mairi Gougeon (Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands) and Professor Bill Austin (Chair Scottish Blue Carbon Forum) at the Blue Carbon Conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Professor Marcel Jaspars (VP-International, RSE), Mairi Gougeon MSP and Professor Bill Austin (Chair Scottish Blue Carbon Forum)

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