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Global Systems Institute

Green and Blue Carbon

Blue carbon is the carbon stored and sequestered by coastal and marine ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes. Green carbon is the carbon stored by terrestrial ecosystems, including forests and other land-based vegetation. These ecosystems have a remarkable ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, playing a crucial role in mitigating climate change and providing powerful solutions to combat the climate crisis.

CALIPSO (Carbon Loss IPlants, Soils and Oceans) is a groundbreaking initiative that aims to transform our understanding of carbon loss in plants, soils, and oceans under the influence of climate change.

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Bringing together a multidisciplinary team made up of world-class ocean and blue carbon scientists, this ambitious five-year global research programme is the largest attempt yet to build a greater understanding of the properties and capabilities of the ocean and its continental shelves in the earth’s carbon cycle, in the urgent effort to slow climate change.

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The Global Carbon Budget is led by Professor Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute with the support of more than 100 people from 70 organisations in 18 countries.

Since 2006, as part of the Global Carbon Project, the annual Global Carbon Budget has provided a wealth of information on carbon emissions and the ramifications for reaching the global climate goals. 

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IngaSystems brings together two projects focused on agroforestry and silvopastoral systems in Latin America led from the University of Exeter. Scientists from Exeter, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and University of Edinburgh have teamed up with the Instituto Ouro Verde (IOV) to create a social approach to sustainable tropical agriculture. The projects support and encourage local communities to adopt sustainable farming methods that provide food security and income whilst simultaneously improving tree cover and soil conditions in one of the most degraded areas of Amazonia.

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PhycoMexUK works with professionals and industries to research seaweed potential and develop biotechnological applications which benefit communities. From fertilisers to food productions, we work hard with industries across the field to identify solutions to problematic blooms and environmental issues.

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The ‘Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach’ (RENEW) project will work with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands and farmland across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The project will put people at the centre of action on biodiversity renewal and build expertise across different sectors and communities to address the environment and climate crisis.

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To reduce the risk of experiencing dangerous climate change and reach net zero, it will very likely become necessary to actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  However, direct removal of CO2 from air is hampered by its very low concentration in the atmosphere. SeaCURE harnesses two natural properties of the ocean that can circumvent this problem. (1) The amount of carbon dissolved in seawater is approximately 150 times higher than its concentration in air, making extraction significantly easier and quicker, (2) we can utilise the ocean’s vast surface area to remove CO2 from the enormous volume of air sitting above it, rather than having to push all of that air through air-based CO2 capture facilities.

SeaCURE will combine and refine existing approaches to develop a new system that removes  CO2 from seawater and releases the CO2-depleted water back to the ocean, where it will naturally re-absorb an equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Specifically, at the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory we will benchmark established approaches to prepare seawater for CO2 extraction, strip that CO2 from the seawater, and collaborating with Brunel University concentrate the CO2 to high purity. TP Group, a UK-based technology and engineering firm with world-leading expertise in gas extraction from seawater, will then develop and upscale the most cost-effective approach from this toolkit. The SeaCURE team will design a portable pilot plant to remove at least 100 tonnes of CO2 a year. Future testing using the pilot plant would generate the data required to develop commercially viable CO2 removal at the megaton scale, aimed at public and private sector offsetting and the carbon trading market.

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TIST is a farmer-led network operating in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and India, with over 100,000 members (80,000 in Kenya). TIST supports subsistence farmers to plant trees on degraded land to provide fuel, fodder, fruit crops, to protect and rebuild soils and to sequester carbon. By planting trees members of TIST grow a ‘virtual crop’ of verified carbon credits that can be sold internationally, with 70% of the proceeds returning directly to the farmers and the remainder invested in the program. TIST has shown enormous benefits both to the farmers it serves and to the ecology of the landscapes in which they live, with quantified impacts on 16 out of 17 of the sustainable development goals. 

To help better serve the farmers, and scale up the impacts across degraded landscapes GSI has been working with TIST on three key activities:

1. In their 20 years of operation TIST has accumulated an extremely large collection of data including tree locations and growth rates, connected to social information such as meeting dates, gender, date of membership etc. We are working with TIST to map social networks as TIST grows by grass-roots activity and word of mouth, and to try to understand characteristics of the most successful and less successful TIST groups.

2. We are combining TIST’s own data with remote sensing products and field studies to understand TIST’s ecological impacts at the landscape scale, and understand the likely impact on farmers of projected climate change.

3. We are helping TIST to develop a new generation of training materials that can be delivered remotely to widen TIST’s reach and allow it to spread to areas it would not reach by its current word-of-mouth approach. 

» Download/view the TIST Poster pdf or watch Tom Powell present the poster at the online event Nature Based Solutions Digital Dialogues

» TIST website

» Read Rudy Arthur's blog, 'Data Science for Climate Resilience in East Africa'

» Watch a wonderful animation from the folks at Kiss the Ground about carbon, soil, and the promise of regenerative farming practices.

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Road running through field

NRT is an umbrella group supporting communities in the northern Kenyan rangelands to establish community conservancy areas. NRT currently comprises 35 member conservancies covering around 8% of Kenya’s total land area and incorporating around 70,000 people. In a landscape with 18 different ethnic groups, where armed conflict has been endemic and severe overgrazing has led to serious food insecurity, the community governance structures pioneered by NRT’s member conservancies provide hugely powerful platforms for communities to resolve conflicts, collectively agree on community grazing strategies to ensure preservation of productive grazing land for their livestock during increasingly frequent drought events, and establish significant biodiversity conservation areas.

GSI is working with NRT to use remote sensing products to identify the impacts of NRT practices on the resilience of vegetation in the rangeland ecosystems, as retaining productive grasslands even through periods of severe drought is fundamental to the security and wellbeing of pastoralist communities. We are also pursuing several lines of enquiry around better understanding NRT’s governance structures and their integration with traditional community governance structures, and quantification of impacts on the other SDGs

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OPALS is a six-year programme of foundational and applied research, launched in October 2021, which aims to support sustainable human-landscape interactions across Africa.

Led by the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute working in close collaboration with our partners across the continent, the £2.3 M programme is jointly funded by the University of Exeter, Sarah Turvill (Exeter’s Chair of Council), and Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation.

Our work will link partners across the African continent with international research expertise at Exeter and beyond, and use engaged research approaches to fulfil the overarching aims:

  • Provide a strong, credible, and connected voice for African communities, land managers and researchers in the global climate and ecological crisis
  • Co-produce sustainable pathways to resilient socioenvironmental systems in African landscapes
  • Support environmental leadership and sustainable land management across Africa
  • Support stakeholders to understand, mitigate and adapt to environmental change

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GSI is currently supporting UNESCO and Eden Project International in piloting community-led ecological restoration activities in the Lake Chad basin. Lake Chad decreased in area by 90% in the second half of the 20th century, making over 40 million people increasingly vulnerable to environmental degradation and food security. This has helped to inflame insecurity and conflict across the region as well as leaving huge numbers of people stranded in extreme poverty, and has been exacerbated since 2013 by the incursion of Boko Haram in the region.

Drawing on lessons from TIST, NRT and other projects we are facilitating communities in Chad to explore the potential for improved livelihoods and security based on regenerating the ecological services on which people depend. We are developing pilot programs around sustainable fisheries, regenerative farming and grazing practices and the production of Spirulina algae. These pilots will be extremely small and undertaken highly sensitively given the extreme poverty and insecurity faced by the communities we are working with, but we are very optimistic about the potential for this approach, once demonstrated, to have much wider reach and to help build security and opportunity across the region. We have so far conducted preliminary scoping and engagement work, and held a 3 day workshop in N’Djamena, Chad, in February 2020. We have had excellent engagement with stakeholders in the region and are very excited to develop this project further.

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Tidelines image

GSI is supporting Tidelines, an Exmouth-based project which brings together arts, sciences, community and trans-disciplinary research to explore and adapt to the changing world at a time of climate and ecological emergency and to connect us with the other inhabitants who share our home (for example insects, marine life, birds, microfauna).  A project for all residents on and around the Exe estuary to investigate together how the estuary and coastline works and how it is changing: a ‘communiversity’ of enquiry working with University of Exeter and local specialists with in-depth knowledge on a variety of subjects. A program of events will launch this spring; in response to the current situation this will begin with a series of participatory online activities which people can take part in from home. Tidelines is also supported by the University's Erasmus+ Socially Engaged Universities program.

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