Redefining Commodities in International Trade: ASEAN Blue Carbon Initiative and Its Role in Navigating Climate Crisis in the Southeast Asia Region

Stepping further into the technological and industrial advancement age, the narration of sustainability in the international trade system has gained much attention from policymakers worldwide. Not only due to the climate crisis’s indiscriminate effect, which transverses beyond borders but also the highly disruptive implications for the international community’s economic activity, this agenda is being prioritized by governments. To make a long story short, states are looking for an answer to strike a balance in economic production, which is pivotal to our daily lives, and the climate crisis is irreversible damage. A recent initiative that has been put forward to solve these pressing issues is the carbon trading system, which places a cap and tax on corporations’ greenhouse emissions. In the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Blue Carbon ecosystem, which consists of mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows, holds massive potential to be the global hub for carbon sequestration and storage. This article aims to explore ASEAN’s potential to fulfill its leading role in the blue carbon economy agenda and how it may contribute to our collective struggle to halt the climate crisis.

Blue carbon can be understood as carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. Scott & Lindsay (2022) stated in their writings that the ecosystem’s critical components are crucial in offsetting carbon

footprint excess as the water-logged soils can isolate and store more carbon per unit than a regular forest. Statistically, in an empirical study conducted by Gruber et al. (2019), 31% of our carbon emissions are effectively absorbed into the depths of our ocean each day. Its high percentage of efficacy surely promises a critically needed way out for actors around the world whose means of production are still in the range of carbon-intensive. In 2023, fossil fuel use and energy exploration will still top the list as the biggest carbon emitters by industry; its cheapness deters the motivation to rapidly change into green energy that requires more material resources in its exploration. Aside from the dilemma of unsustainable energy scarcity, like any other political economy field of study, the answer to the question “Who gets what, when, and how?” that indicates the ‘paradox of plenty’ remains blurry, and our inability to answer it with a degree of fairness could still drag us into the edge of climate crisis injustice. In response to this issue, ASEAN created a comprehensive framework that accentuates the potential of the region’s blue economy; here, blue carbon initiatives are identified as one of the supporting pillars.

ASEAN’s Blue Economy Framework puts the values of inclusivity, cross-sectoral approach, and sustainability as its guiding principles. Correlating to the issue at hand, in its Blue Conservation Management plan, ASEAN member states are looking to achieve a neutral carbon balance using their marine and coastal-based activities. Regular emissions and sequestration capability assessments are also integrated into its strategies, along with the nationally determined contribution (NDC) system, which gives member states room to find a fine line between exploitation and preservation. The culmination of all these aspects is crystallized in the Blue Growth objective, which emphasizes the role of the ocean as the state’s engine of growth (Eikeset et al., 2018). In the writer’s opinion, ASEAN’s initiative is paramount to our collective effort to mitigate the detrimental effects of economic production. This premise holds bits of truth in the fact that the region hosts the planet’s most significant share of mangroves and seagrass, with 37% and 23%, respectively (Stankovic et al., 2023). These two components play critical roles in offsetting carbon footprints; creating a system that puts these rising states’ aspirations at the center is important. After all, we can’t negate the harsh fact that not all states are in the same stages of industrialization and development, but the climate crisis still happens indiscriminately. That logic requires us to pursue solutions that are constructed from the principles of sustainability and empowerment to make sure no one gets left behind this time.

Among the member states, Indonesia is one of the countries that possesses the ability and capacity to spearhead the effort. Along with Brazil, Nigeria, and Mexico, Indonesia owns more than 25% of the world’s mangrove population, which could absorb roughly 3.14 billion metric tons of carbon (PgC) (Sulaiman & Lutfi, 2019). Things are also pretty much the same in the same state with our seagrass reserves. Based on that fact alone, surely the international community would expect Indonesia to set the tone in this joint effort to redefine commodities in our trade system. After all, modifying something that is heavily reliant on nature’s ability presents an untapped opportunity as well as a grave danger should we fail to prevent it from getting into exploitation. Reflecting on what has been going on for the past couple of years, corporations’ unwillingness to switch their methods of production proves to be quite a challenge in implementing the carbon trading system. Instead of integrating bits of environment-based modification into their economic affairs, most of them choose to pay for the excess and thus put into question the effectiveness of the newly introduced carbon offsetting scheme. At the end of the day, those selfish actions do not contribute much to the declining amount of carbon emitted that has been set as the primary objective. In correspondence with this intricate issue, the writer thinks that Indonesia could use its capacity to influence and drive certain ASEAN policies that balance complex day-to-day economic activities and environmental preservation.

Consequently, our action to put a price tag on the ocean means that marine and coastal protection should be at the top of the list of policy priorities. ASEAN, through its Blue Economy Framework, has planned on establishing marine protected areas, such as the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape and Coral Triangle Initiatives, to fulfill that mission. The organization aims to build a collaborative engagement between governments, NGOs, and local communities—three actors that have high stakes in how the coastal environment would be developed should it turn into a ‘carbon sink’. Moreover, this particular model of engagement that combines top-down and bottom-up approaches can also be seen as an effort to decentralize this carbon sequestration-centric issue. To achieve inclusive growth, equal rights of access to resources must be given to every actor so that they may contribute equally to the collective effort. This kind of political-economy arrangement, in the eyes of the writer, could be the entry point for ASEAN to lead in the global market. Humans and nature must be empowered equally to help us reach a state of sustainability in the future.


In conclusion, despite its commitment-related issue, ASEAN has managed to create a well-written plan for maximizing the potential of the blue economy in the region. Its top-down and bottom-up approach opens up an opportunity to create an inclusive environment to achieve sustainable growth. Concerning our responsibility towards the environment, ASEAN could take on the role of norm-setter to make sure inclusivity and sustainability are put into similar initiatives. This becomes increasingly important as this region possesses most of the untapped potential, and for years, it has been crucial for the local communities’ livelihood. Above all, no one should get left behind in the effort to find the balance between economic growth and nature protection.



Eikeset, A. M., Mazzarella, A. B., Davíðsdóttir, B., Klinger, D. H., Levin, S. A., Rovenskaya, E., & Stenseth, N. Chr. (2018). What is blue growth? The semantics of “Sustainable Development” of marine environments. Marine Policy, 87, 177–179.

Gruber, N., Clement, D., Carter, B. R., Feely, R. A., van Heuven, S., Hoppema, M., & Ishii,

  1. (2019). The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2 from 1994 to 2007. Science, 363(6432).

Scott, M., & Lindsey, R. (2022, September 29). Understanding blue carbon | NOAA

Stankovic, M., Mishra, A. K., Rahayu, Y. P., Lefcheck, J., Murdiyarso, D., Friess, D. A., Corkalo, M., Vukovic, T., Vanderklift, M. A., Farooq, S. H., Gaitan-Espitia, J. D., & Prathep, A. (2023). Blue carbon assessments of seagrass and mangrove ecosystems in South and Southeast Asia: Current progress and knowledge gaps. Science of the Total Environment, 904, 166618.

Sulaiman,  B.,  &  Lutfi,  M.  (2019).  COASTAL  COMMUNITY  PERCEPTION  OF

MANGROVES IN SULI SUBDISTRICT, LUWU. Jurnal Pendidikan IPA Indonesia, 8(4).


Short Biography:

Oktavianus Bima Saputra is an undergraduate in the Department of International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.