Making Blue Carbon: Coastal Ecosystems at the Science-Policy Interface

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


Climate change is a growing threat to mankind. The message from the scientific community is clear: we need to act fast and profoundly. The political response has, however, been slow. The likelihood that we will be able to meet our political climate goals only by reducing emissions is slim. Meanwhile is the interest around ways to capture carbon dioxide that has already been emitted on the rise. In addition to technical solutions currently being tested, ecosystems can be used in a similar vein. Most attention has been on forests. In this thesis I look at a less well-known way to mitigate climate change, namely to utilise the ability of coastal ecosystems, such as mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass meadows, to sequester and store carbon, or to protect existing ecosystems to avoid emissions. The political interest in this so called “Blue Carbon” has increased over the past decade, and it is now governed through, inter alia, national carbon inventories and carbon markets. More specifically, in this thesis I explore the “making of” Blue Carbon – how the carbon associated with coastal ecosystems is made knowable and governable in the context of climate change mitigation at the global level. Informed by social and environmental science, I draw on a range of methods, including participatory observations at the United Nations climate change negotiations, interviews with experts, and qualitative document analysis, to present new perspectives on Blue Carbon and how it is governed.
To understand the making of Blue Carbon it is, I argue, necessary to situate it in relation to broader processes within and related to climate science and policy. I identify three logics of the climate regime – the global, scientific and neoliberal logics – that I find useful for this purpose. I describe how these logics are articulated and reproduced in material, institutional, and discursive dimensions of the climate regime. I find that science, and more precisely a specific type of science, plays a particularly important role in the making of Blue Carbon, and in the context of climate policy generally. In the context of coastal ecosystems, science is needed to know the size of carbon stocks, which in turn is the foundation for creating policy mechanisms. I show that the making of Blue Carbon is indeed rendering coastal ecosystems governable in the context of climate change, which in turn opens the door for new governance mechanisms and funding sources. However, my study also reveals the complexities around measuring carbon in these ecosystems, and the challenges associated with collapsing something as dynamic as an ecosystem into a standardised protocol. This in turn raises questions regarding the possibility to address important uncertainties embedded in the making of Blue Carbon, not least given that these ecosystems are also vulnerable to the effects of climate change. There is a risk that an exaggerated focus on carbon services makes other values invisible, which could lead to a devaluation of these important ecosystems. There is also a risk of creating competition between ecosystems, with negative consequences for their management and wellbeing. I argue that these risks merit further consideration. A broader, more diverse, and more inclusive approach to knowledge-making in this context could be a first step, not least to be able to bring forward alternative ways of governing coastal ecosystems, or make more of the alternatives that already exist, depending on the desired outcome.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Environmental Sciences


  • climate change, UNFCCC, science-policy interface, Blue Carbon, coastal ecosystems
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2019 Oct 18
Place of PublicationLund
  • Lund University (Media-Tryck)
Print ISBNs978-91-7895-280-9
Electronic ISBNs978-91-7895-281-6
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Sep
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2019-10-18 Time: 09:15 Place: The Blue Hall, The Ecology Building, Sölvegatan 37, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Blok, Anders Title: Associate Professor Affiliation: University of Copenhagen, Denmark ---

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