Crosscutting Considerations on Ocean-based CDR R&D
This chapter addresses several crosscutting considerations that are relevant to all ocean carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques. It begins with a discussion of the existing international and domestic legal frameworks for ocean CDR research and deployment. That is followed by a discussion of the social dimensions of ocean CDR, including issues relating to public and community acceptance, environmental and climate justice considerations, and the political dynamics of ocean CDR. Finally, the chapter discusses other factors affecting the viability of ocean CDR, including monitoring and verification and funding. The chapter concludes with a discussion and summary of research needed to address these foundational, cross-cutting considerations.
2.1 LEGAL AND REGULATORY LANDSCAPE
The current legal framework for ocean CDR is highly fragmented, in large part due to the shared nature of the oceans. Around 60 percent of the oceans comprise so-called international waters, which are not under the authority or control of any one country, but rather open to use by all in accordance with international law. Coastal countries and, in some cases, their administrative divisions, share authority over the remainder of the oceans. As such, depending on where they occur, ocean CDR projects may be subject to various international and/or domestic laws.
At the international level and domestically in the United States, there is no single, comprehensive legal framework specific to ocean CDR research or deployment. Although there has been an attempt to regulate certain ocean CDR techniques—most notably, nutrient fertilization—under existing international agreements, there remain significant gaps in the international legal framework.
Notwithstanding the lack of international and domestic law specifically governing ocean CDR research and deployment, projects could be subject to a variety of general environmental and other laws. Because those laws were developed to regulate other activities, there is often uncertainty as to how they will apply to ocean CDR research and deployment. Further research is needed both to resolve unanswered questions about the application of existing law to ocean CDR projects and to develop new model governance frameworks for such projects.
Developing a clear and consistent legal framework for ocean CDR is essential to facilitate research and (if deemed appropriate) full-scale deployment, while also ensuring that projects are conducted in a safe and environmentally sound manner. Having appropriate legal safeguards in place is vital to minimize the risk of negative environmental and other outcomes and should help to promote greater confidence in ocean CDR among investors, policy makers, and other stakeholders. It is, however, important to avoid imposing inappropriate or overly strict requirements that could unnecessarily hinder ocean CDR research and deployment. Having clearly defined requirements should simplify the permitting of projects and reduce uncertainties and risks for project developers.
Jurisdiction over the Oceans
The extent of countries’ jurisdiction over the oceans is defined by international law as set out in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Although the United States is not a party to UNCLOS, it recognizes many of its provisions (including those discussed in this subsection) as forming part of customary international law, and thus abides by them.
UNCLOS distinguishes the oceans from countries’ internal waters (see Figure 2.1). The dividing line between the two is known as the baseline and is normally the low-water line along the relevant country’s coast.1 Waters situated landward of the baseline are internal waters over which the country has full sovereign rights.2 Ocean waters, situated beyond the baseline, are divided into several zones, each of which has a different legal status (see Table 2.1).
The U.S. Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are shown in Figure 2.2. Jurisdiction over the U.S. territorial sea is shared among the coastal states and territories and the federal government. Each coastal state has primary jurisdiction over areas extending 3 nautical miles from
1 Art. 5, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397 (hereinafter “UNCLOS”). See also art. 7, UNCLOS (providing for the use of “straight baselines” in some circumstances).
2 Art. 8, UNCLOS.
TABLE 2.1 Zonal Jurisdictions in Ocean Waters
|Territorial sea||0 to 12 nautical miles from the baseline||Part of the sovereign territory of the coastal country.a|
|Contiguous zone||12 to 24 nautical miles from the baseline||Country has authority to prevent and punish infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration, or sanitary laws and regulations.b|
|Exclusive economic zone (EEZ)||12 to 200 nautical miles from the baseline||Country has sovereign rights to explore for, exploit, conserve, and manage natural resources and perform other activities for the economic exploitation of the zone, and jurisdiction over artificial islands and other structures, marine scientific research, and the protection and preservation of the marine environment.c|
|Continental shelf||12 to 200 nautical miles from the baseline or the outer edge of the continental margin (subject to certain limits)||Country has sovereign rights to explore and exploit natural resources in the continental shelf.d|
|High seas||Areas not included in the above categories||No country has sovereign rights. Open to use by all countries.e|
a Art. 2-3, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397 (hereinafter “UNCLOS”).
b Art. 33, UNCLOS.
c Art. 55-57, UNCLOS.
d Art. 76-78, UNCLOS.
e Art. 86-87, UNCLOS.
its coastline, except in parts of the Gulf of Mexico, where the jurisdiction of Texas and Florida extends 9 nautical miles from the coast.3 Puerto Rico’s jurisdiction also extends 9 nautical miles from the coast, while other territories only have jurisdiction over areas within 3 nautical miles of the coast.4 (Areas under the primary jurisdiction of states or territories are referred to as “state waters.”)
Local governments have limited jurisdiction in state waters in some areas. Additionally, the federal government retains some regulatory authority in state waters (e.g., to regulate commerce, navigation, national defense, and international affairs).5 The federal government also has exclusive authority over federal waters, which extend beyond state waters, up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline.
Some Native American tribes have rights to fish in U.S. state and federal waters and co-manage fishery resources with state and federal governments.6 U.S. courts have held that tribal fishing rights create an implied duty on the part of state and federal governments to avoid damage to fish habitat.7 Federal agencies are required to consult with tribal officials before taking any action that will “have substantial direct effects on one or more Indian tribes.”8 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued guidelines for conducting such consultations.9
3 43 U.S.C. §§ 1301 & 1312; U.S. v. Louisiana, 100 S. Ct. 1618 (1980), 420 U.S. 529 (1975), 394 U.S. 11 (1969), 389 U.S. 155 (1967), 363 U.S. 1 (1960), 339 U.S. 699 (1950).
4 48 U.S.C. §§ 749 & 1705.
5 43 U.S.C. § 1314.
6 See e.g., Treaty with the Dwamish, Suquamish, etc. (commonly known as the Treaty of Point Elliot), Art. 5, Jan. 22, 1855, 12 Stat. 927.
7 United States v. Washington, 853 F.3d 946 (9th Cir. 2017), cert. granted, 138 S. Ct. 735 (2018).
8 Executive Order No. 13175, 65 Fed. Reg. 65249 (2000).
9 See http://www.legislative.noaa.gov/policybriefs/NOAA%20Tribal%20consultation%20handbook%206%2013.11%20final.pdf.
International Law Relevant to Ocean CDR
Ocean-based activities are governed by a large body of international law, comprising both international agreements that specific countries have consented to be bound by and customary rules that establish universal legal standards that are binding on all countries. This body of international law was developed to deal with issues such as ocean access, marine pollution, and fisheries management. At the time they were negotiated, none of the international ocean agreements was intended to regulate ocean CDR research or deployment. However, many of the agreements include provisions that could apply to in situ testing, and/or full-scale deployment, of one or more ocean CDR techniques. The parties to one agreement—the London Protocol—have adopted an amendment that is intended to establish a specific regulatory framework for so-called marine geoengineering activities that involve the addition of materials to the oceans (e.g., nutrient fertilization). That amendment has not yet taken effect, however.
Previous studies have considered the application of existing international law to projects involving research into, or full-scale deployment of, various ocean CDR techniques (e.g., Freestone and Rayfuse 2008; Abate and Greenlee, 2009; Verlaan, 2009; Proelss, 2012; Proelss and Hong, 2012; Kuokkanen and Yamineva, 2013; Scott, 2013; Reynolds, 2015, 2018a, 2018b; McGee et al., 2017; Brent et al., 2018; Brent et al., 2019; GESAMP, 2019; Webb et al., 2021). The studies have generally concluded that existing international law is poorly suited to regulating ocean CDR. Studies have identified various gaps and shortcomings in the existing international legal framework and highlighted challenges that may arise from its application to ocean CDR. Some have also recommended principles to guide the development of new international governance frameworks for ocean CDR (e.g., Abate and Greenlee, 2010; McGee et al., 2017).
This section summarizes the prior research on the application of existing international law to ocean CDR. It is important, at the outset, to note the limited effect of some of the international
laws discussed. While all countries are generally bound by the rules of customary international law, international agreements are only binding on countries that are party to them. Several of the international agreements discussed below have a relatively small number of parties and therefore limited application. Moreover, international agreements and customary international law generally do not impose binding obligations on private actors (e.g., individuals and corporations). However, to comply with their international legal obligations, countries may be required to adopt domestic laws that apply to private actors under their jurisdiction. This would include private actors engaging in ocean CDR activities:
- in the relevant country’s territorial sea or EEZ, and
- in other areas, where activities are performed:
- using vessels registered or “flagged” in the relevant country; or
- in some cases, using materials that were loaded onto a vessel in the relevant country.
Note also that some international agreements establish different rules for ocean CDR research versus full-scale deployment. Where that is the case, it is noted below. Many agreements do not, however, expressly distinguish between research and deployment.
Relevant Principles of Customary International Law
Several rules of customary international law could apply to research into, and full-scale deployment of, ocean CDR techniques. Previous studies (e.g., Reynolds, 2015; Brent et al., 2019) have concluded that ocean CDR and other geoengineering activities could trigger the so-called “no harm” rule of customary international law. Under the no harm rule, countries have a “responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other[s]” or the global commons (including the high seas).10 The rule imposes a “due diligence” obligation on countries to “do the utmost” to avoid or minimize transboundary environmental harm, including by adopting and enforcing domestic laws to control potentially harmful activities.11 Researchers (e.g., Brent et al., 2019; Webb et al., 2021) have concluded that, to fulfil their obligation, countries may need to establish domestic laws respecting ocean CDR.
Countries also have a procedural obligation under customary international law to assess whether projects under their jurisdiction are at risk of causing significant transboundary environmental harm (e.g., to other states’ territory or the high seas).12 While there is no agreed definition of what constitutes “significant” harm, the International Law Commission has interpreted the term as requiring damage that is “more than detectable, but need not be at the level of serious or substantial.”13 Past research (e.g., Brent et al., 2019) has identified various factors relevant to assessing the risk of harm from ocean CDR, including the sensitivity of the area likely to be affected and the nature, scale, and permanence of the effects. Ultimately, however, the assessment will need to be undertaken on a case-by-case basis by the country under whose jurisdiction the activity occurs.
10 Declaration of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Principle 2, UN Doc A/CONF.151/26/Rev. 1, June 3-14, 1992.
11 Responsibilities and Obligations of States Sponsoring Persons and Entities with Respect to Activities in the Area, Advisory Opinion, Int’l Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Case No. 17, 110-116 (Feb. 2011).
12 Certain Activities Carried Out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) & Construction of a Road in Costa Rica Along the San Juan River (Nicaragua v. Costa Rica) (International Court of Justice, General List Nos 150 and 152, 16 Dec. 2015).
13 International Law Commission, Draft Articles on Prevention of Transboundary Harm from Hazardous Activities, with Commentaries 152 (2001), https://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/commentaries/9_7_2001.pdf.
Additional international law obligations apply where the initial assessment indicates that a project presents significant risks. A more comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be conducted for risky projects and, where the EIA confirms the potential for significant transboundary environmental damage, those potentially affected must be notified and consulted with.14 However, international law does not dictate the conduct of the EIAs or consultations, giving countries broad discretion to determine how to comply.
Relevant International Agreements
UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and Paris Agreement
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in May 1992 and entered into force in March 1994. As of August 2021, 196 countries, including all United Nations member states, and the European Union were party to the UNFCCC.15 A subset of parties subsequently agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in December 1997 and entered into February 2005, and the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and entered into force in November 2016. The United States never became a party to the Kyoto Protocol, but is a party to the Paris Agreement.16
Past studies (e.g., Proelss, 2012; Reynolds, 2015; Craik and Burns, 2016; Brent et al., 2019) have concluded that the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and Paris Agreement implicitly approve the use of CDR techniques to mitigate climate change. The overarching goal of the UNFCCC is to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”17 To that end, the UNFCCC requires each developed country party to take steps to limit its greenhouse gas emissions and “protect[ ] and enhanc[e] its greenhouse gas sinks,”18 which could be achieved through ocean CDR. The UNFCCC defines the term “sink” broadly to include “any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.”19 The definition is not limited to naturally occurring techniques and would encompass human interventions.
The Kyoto Protocol similarly requires developed country parties to protect and enhance greenhouse gas sinks and to conduct research into, and adopt policies to promote the use of, “carbon dioxide sequestration techniques.”20 That term, although not defined in the Kyoto Protocol, could include ocean CDR techniques that result in the storage of CO2 in the marine environment.
14 Responsibilities and Obligations of States Sponsoring Persons and Entities with respect to Activities in the Area, Advisory Opinion, Int’l Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Case No. 17, 145-149 (Feb. 2011); Certain Activities Carried Out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua), Judgement, ICJ Rep. 2015, 665 at 706-707 (Dec. 2015).
15 See https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetailsIII.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=XXVII7&chapter=27&Temp=mtdsg3&clang=_en.
16 The United States adopted the Paris Agreement on September 3, 2015. On November 4, 2019, the United States notified the United Nations Secretary General of its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, the withdrawal took effect 1 year later on November 4, 2020. The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement on January 20, 2021. See https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2017-08-04/note-correspondents-paris-climate-agreement; https://www.google.com/url?q=https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/CN/2019/CN.575.2019-Eng.pdf&sa=D&source=editors&ust=1628009662970000&usg=AOvVaw3poBcPe4P3tUXvNd5YuBp9; https://www.state.gov/the-united-states-officially-rejoins-the-paris-agreement/.
17 Art. 2, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, May 9, 1992, S. Treaty Doc No. 102-38, 1771 U.N.T.S. 107 (hereinafter UNFCCC).
18 Art. 4(2)(a), UNFCCC.
19 Art. 1, UNFCCC.
20 Art. 2(1)(a)(ii) & (iv), Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 10, 1997, 2303 U.N.T.S. 148.
Finally, the Paris Agreement requires all parties, including the United States, to take steps to mitigate climate change, with the objective of limiting global warming to “well below” 2oC, and ideally 1.5oC, above preindustrial levels.21 Under the Paris Agreement, parties “aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible” and “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removal by sinks” in the second half of the century.22 The Paris Agreement thus anticipates that parties may mitigate climate change both by reducing anthropogenic emissions and increasing removals by sinks. The Agreement expressly states that parties “should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases.”23 Ocean CDR could, at least in some circumstances, be viewed as a way of enhancing sinks.
Each party to the Paris Agreement determines the extent to which, and how, it will contribute to the achievement of the Agreement’s goals and communicates that information in its “nationally determined contribution” (NDC).24 One recent study (Gallo et al., 2017) found that 27 parties included coastal carbon sequestration techniques (also known as blue carbon) in their initial NDCs. Others (e.g., Craik and Burns, 2016; Brent et al., 2019) have concluded that parties could, consistent with the terms of the Paris Agreement, incorporate ocean CDR into their NDCs. The Paris Agreement does not, however, expressly require parties to engage in ocean CDR techniques or establish specific rules for their use.
Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted in June 1992 and entered into force in December 1993. As of August 2021, there were 196 parties to the CBD, giving it near global coverage.25 Notably, however, the United States is not a party to the CBD.
The CBD aims to promote “the conservation of biological diversity, [and] the sustainable use of its components.” Article 3 of the CBD reiterates the customary international law obligation of countries to avoid transboundary environmental harm. Under Article 7, parties must, as far as possible and appropriate, identify potentially harmful activities and monitor their effects. Article 14 requires parties to implement procedures to conduct EIAs of proposed activities that are likely to have significant adverse effects on biological diversity and allow for public participation in the assessment process. Where an activity is likely to have transboundary effects, parties must notify, and consult with, the potentially affected countries before it occurs.26 Parties must have in place arrangements for responding to activities that present a “grave and imminent danger” to biological diversity and, if the danger is transboundary, immediately notify potentially affected countries and take action to prevent or minimize the danger.27
The parties to the CBD have adopted a series of nonbinding decisions specifically addressing ocean fertilization and other so-called “geoengineering” activities. Decision IX/16, adopted in October 2008, recommends that “ocean fertilization activities” be avoided “until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities, including assessing associated risks, and a global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism is in place for these activities.”28 Decision XI/16 incorporates an exception for “small scale research studies within coastal waters,” which
21 Art. 2(1)(a) & 4, Paris Agreement, Dec. 12, 2015, U/N. Doc. FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev/1 (hereinafter Paris Agreement).
22 Art. 4(1), Paris Agreement.
23 Art. 5, Paris Agreement.
24 Art. 3 & 4, Paris Agreement.
25 See https://www.cbd.int/information/parties.shtml.
26 Art. 14, Convention on Biological Diversity, June 5, 1992, 1760 U.N.T.S. 79, 143 (hereinafter CBD).
27 Art. 14, CBD.
28 Para. C(4), Report of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity on the Work of its Ninth Meeting, Decision IX/16 on Biodiversity and Climate Change, Oct. 9, 2008 (hereinafter Decision IX/16).
may be authorized “if justified by the need to gather specific scientific data, and should also be subject to a thorough prior assessment of the potential impacts of the research studies on the marine environment, and be strictly controlled, and not be used for generating and selling carbon offsets or any other commercial purposes.”29
In October 2010, the parties to the CBD adopted Decision X/33, which reiterates that ocean fertilization activities should be “addressed in accordance with decision IX/16.”30 Decision X/33 also deals more broadly with “geoengineering activities,” which were initially defined to include “any technologies that deliberately reduce solar insolation or increase carbon sequestration from the atmosphere on a large scale that may affect biodiversity.”31 The decision recommends that parties and other governments:
[e]nsure, . . . in the absence of science based, global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms for geo-engineering, and in accordance with the precautionary approach and Article 14 of the Convention, that no climate-related geo-engineering activities[ ] that may affect biodiversity take place, until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts, with the exception of small scale scientific research studies that would be conducted in a controlled setting . . . if they are justified by the need to gather specific scientific data and are subject to a thorough prior assessment of the potential impacts on the environment.”32
The parties reaffirmed the above recommendation in October 2012 in Decision XI/2033 and again in the December 2016 Decision XIII/4.34 In Decision XI/20, the parties also adopted a broader definition of “geoengineering,” which includes:
- Any technologies that deliberately reduce solar insolation or increase carbon sequestration from the atmosphere on a large scale and that may affect biodiversity . . .
- Deliberate intervention in the planetary environment of a nature and scale intended to counteract anthropogenic climate change and/or its impacts . . .
- Deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment . . .
- Technological efforts to stabilize the climate system by direct intervention in the energy balance of the Earth for reducing global warming.35
Webb et al. (2021, p.19) concluded that this definition would encompass ocean CDR projects “undertaken for the purpose of mitigating climate change.” However, they and others (e.g., Sugiyama and Sugiyama, 2010; Bodansky, 2011; Reynolds, 2018b; Brent et al., 2019) note that the practical effect of Decision X/33 is limited because it is nonbinding and uses soft language. While one nongovernmental organization (NGO)—the ETC Group—has argued that Decision X/33 creates a “de facto moratorium” on geoengineering that arguably overstates its legal effect (ETC Group, 2010). The decision expressly allows geoengineering research projects meeting specified criteria and, as noted, the prohibition on nonresearch projects is not legally binding.
29 Para. C(4), Decision IX/16.
30 Para. 8(w), Report of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity on the Work of its Tenth Meeting, Decision X/33 on Biodiversity and Climate Change, Oct. 29, 2010 (hereinafter “Decision X/33”).
31 Note 3, Decision X/33.
32 Para 8(w), Decision X/33.
33 Para. 1, Report of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity on the Work of its Eleventh Meeting, Decision XI/20 on Climate-Related Geoengineering, Dec. 5, 2012 (hereinafter Decision XI/20).
34 Preamble, Report of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity on the Work of Its Thirteenth Meeting, Decision XIII/4, Dec. 10, 2016 (hereinafter Decision XIII/4).
35 Para. 5, Decision XI/20.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
UNCLOS was adopted in December 1982 and entered into force in November 1994. A separate Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of UNCLOS Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement) was adopted in August 1995 and entered into force in November 2001. As of August 2021, there were 168 parties to UNCLOS, and 91 parties to the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.36 The United States is a party to the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement only.
Ocean CDR research projects may be subject to Part XIII of UNCLOS, which deals with “marine scientific research.” Although UNCLOS does not define what constitutes “marine scientific research,” the term is commonly interpreted to encompass any “scientific investigation . . . concerned with the marine environment,” including the water column and seabed. Researchers (e.g., Proelss and Hong, 2012; Brent et al., 2019, p. 19) have concluded that projects aimed at demonstrating or testing ocean CDR techniques would qualify if conducted “in situ” in the ocean.
Part XIII of UNCLOS recognizes the right of each country to conduct marine scientific research within its own territorial sea and EEZ, within the terrestrial sea and EEZ of another country with that country’s consent, and on the high seas.37 The right to conduct marine scientific research is, however, subject to countries’ general duty under UNCLOS to protect and preserve the marine environment (discussed below). Marine scientific research must be conducted “exclusively for peaceful purposes,” in accordance with “appropriate scientific methods,” and must not “unjustifiably interfere with other legitimate uses” of the oceans.38
Countries wanting to conduct marine scientific research in the EEZ or on the continental shelf of another country must provide the host country with detailed information about the nature and objectives of the project, precisely where and when it will occur, and the activities and equipment to be used.39 The host country must be given the opportunity to participate in the project and, if requested, access to the research data, samples, and results.40 The research results must also be made available internationally.41Brent et al. (2019) have argued that these reporting requirements could help promote transparency in ocean CDR research. It is, however, important to note that the requirements will only apply to a subset of ocean CDR research projects—that is, those that are conducted by one country in the EEZ or on the continental shelf of a second country.
Part XII of UNCLOS, dealing with “Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment,” includes several provisions that could affect both research and full-scale ocean CDR projects. Article 193 recognizes that countries have a “sovereign right to exploit their natural resources.” At least one study (Reynolds, 2018a) has concluded that ocean CDR may be viewed as a means of exploiting natural resources, specifically the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2, and thus within countries’ sovereign rights.
Countries must exercise their sovereign rights in accordance with international law, including their obligation, under customary international law, to avoid significant transboundary environmental harm. Under Articles 192 and 193 of UNCLOS, countries also have a general obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment, and must exercise their sovereign rights in accordance with that obligation. UNCLOS includes several provisions requiring countries to take steps to con-
36 See https://www.un.org/Depts/los/reference_files/chronological_lists_of_ratifications.htm#Agreement%20relating%20to%20the%20implementation%20of%20Part%20XI%20of%20the%20Convention.
37 Art. 245 & 246, UNCLOS.
38 Art. 240, UNCLOS.
39 Art. 248, UNCLOS.
40 Art. 249, UNCLOS.
41 Art. 249, UNCLOS.
trol marine pollution42 and monitor and mitigate its effects.43 Similarly, the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement requires parties (including the United States) to minimize pollution and its impacts, particularly on endangered fish and nonfish species.44 The term “pollution” is defined broadly to mean:
the introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the marine environment, including estuaries, which results or is likely to result in such deleterious effects as harm to living resources and marine life, hazards to human health, hindrance to marine activities, including fishing and other legitimate uses of the sea, impairment of quality for use of the sea water and reduction of amenities.
Several researchers (e.g., Boyle, 2012; Reynolds, 2015, 2018b; Marshall, 2017) have argued that this definition could encompass CO2 in the marine environment. Ocean CDR techniques that remove CO2 from the marine environment could, therefore, be viewed as a form of pollution control. However, others (e.g., Brent et al., 2019; Webb et al., 2021) argue that ocean CDR techniques involving the addition of materials to ocean waters, such as ocean iron fertilization and ocean alkalinity enhancement, could themselves be considered pollution of the marine environment. Article 195 of UNCLOS requires parties, when taking steps to control pollution, to avoid merely transforming one type of pollution into another. That could have implications for projects that remove CO2, which may be considered a form of pollution, from ocean waters by adding other materials, which may also constitute pollutants, into the water.
Researchers (e.g., Reynolds, 2018a,b; Webb et al., 2021) have recommended a case-by-case assessment of ocean CDR projects. Where a project is found to involve pollution of the marine environment, the country under whose jurisdiction it occurs will need to comply with various requirements imposed under UNCLOS. Among other things, the party must notify affected countries and competent international authorities and study and document the effects of the project.45
UNCLOS provides that countries that fail to fulfil their “international obligations concerning the protection and preservation of the marine environment . . . shall be liable in accordance with international law.”46 Disputes may be referred to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice, or a specially constituted arbitral tribunal.47 Where a country is found to have breached its international obligations, it must cease the offending conduct (if it is continuing), “offer appropriate assurances and guarantees of non-repetition,” and “make full reparation” for any damage caused to others.48
London Convention and Protocol
The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (London Convention) was adopted in November 1972 and entered into force in August 1975. A protocol to the London Convention (the London Protocol) was adopted in November 1996 and entered into force in March 2006. The London Protocol will replace the Convention once ratified by all contracting parties. Until that occurs, the two instruments operate concurrently. Countries that are party only to the London Convention are bound solely by that instrument, whereas those that have ratified both are subject to the London Protocol. As of August 2021, there were 87 parties
42 Art. 194, 196 & 210-212, UNCLOS.
43 Art. 198, 199, 200, & 204-206, UNCLOS.
44 Art. 5, Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.
45 Art. 194, 196, 198, 202-209 & 211-212, UNCLOS.
46 Art. 235(1), UNCLOS.
47 Art. 287, UNCLOS. See also Annex VII & VIII, UNCLOS.
48 Resolution Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, A/RES/56/83 (Jan. 28, 2002).
to the London Convention, and 53 parties to the London Protocol.49 The United States is a party only to the London Convention.50
Countries that are party to the London Convention and/or London Protocol must adopt domestic laws to control the dumping of waste and other matter in the oceans.51 Both the London Convention and London Protocol define “dumping” to include the “deliberate disposal of waste or other matter at sea from vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures.”52 The definition expressly excludes “the placement of matter [in the sea] for a purpose other than mere disposal,” where “such placement is not contrary to the aims of” the London Convention or Protocol.53
Parties to the London Convention must prohibit the dumping of eight “blacklisted” substances (identified in Annex I to the Convention and listed in Table 2.2) but can permit the dumping of other substances.54 In contrast, parties to the London Protocol must prohibit the dumping of all substances, except eight “whitelisted” substances (identified in Annex I to the Protocol and listed in Table 2.2), which may be dumped with a permit.55
Some ocean CDR techniques, including ocean alkalinity enhancement, nutrient fertilization, and seaweed cultivation (in some cases), may involve “dumping” within the terms of the London Convention and Protocol (Scott, 2013; Webb et al., 2021). Whether a party to the London Conven-
TABLE 2.2 Blacklisted and Whitelisted Substances as Identified in Annex I to the London Protocol
|Blacklisted Substances Under the London Conventiona||Whitelisted Substances Under the London Protocolb|
|aMaterials containing substances 1 through 5 as “trace contaminants” only are not blacklisted. Materials containing any of the above substances, except radioactive matter, are not blacklisted if they “are rapidly rendered harmless by the physical, chemical or biological processes in the sea” and do not “make edible marine organisms unpalatable” or “endanger human health or that of domestic animals.”||bThe listed materials cease to be whitelisted if they contain levels of radioactivity greater than “de minimis concentrations.”|
49 See https://www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Environment/Pages/London-Convention-Protocol.aspx.
50 See https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping/ocean-dumping-international-treaties#:~:text=The%20United%20States%20ratified%20the,Parties%20to%20the%20London%20Convention.
51 Art. IV, Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, Dec. 29, 1972 (hereinafter London Convention); Art. 4, Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matters, Nov. 7, 1996 (hereinafter London Protocol).
52 Art. III(a), London Convention; Art. 1(4.1), London Protocol.
53 Art. III(b), London Convention; Art. 1(4.2), London Protocol.
54 Art. IV, London Convention.
55 Art. 4, London Protocol.
tion and/or Protocol can permit such activities will, therefore, depend on the nature of the substances to be dumped. Substances blacklisted under the London Convention include “[p]ersistent plastics and other persistent synthetic materials,” such as “netting and ropes,” which could possibly be dumped in some ocean CDR projects (e.g., seaweed cultivation; Webb et al., 2021). Most ocean CDR projects are, however, unlikely to involve the dumping of blacklisted substances and thus could be permitted by parties to the London Convention (Freestone and Rayfuse, 2008; Scott, 2013; Webb et al., 2021). In contrast, many ocean CDR projects involving dumping likely could not be permitted by parties to the London Protocol, because the materials used are not whitelisted under the Protocol (Freestone and Rayfuse, 2008; Scott, 2013; Webb et al., 2021). One possible exception is seaweed cultivation as “organic material of natural origin,” which is whitelisted under the London Protocol. (There is, however, some uncertainty as to whether the sinking of cultivated seaweed even constitutes “dumping” and is thus covered by the London Convention; see Chapter 5).
In 2008, the parties to the London Convention and London Protocol adopted a nonbinding resolution (LC-LP.1, 2008), in which they agreed that the instruments apply to ocean fertilization projects “undertaken by humans with the principal intention of stimulating primary production in the oceans” (except conventional aquaculture and mariculture and other projects related to the creation of artificial reefs).56
Resolution LC-LP.1 (2008) specifies when ocean fertilization projects should be considered “dumping” for the purposes of the London Convention and Protocol. The resolution draws a distinction between research and other (nonresearch) ocean fertilization projects. According to the resolution, projects involving “legitimate scientific research . . . should be regarded as [involving the] placement of matter for a purpose other than mere disposal.”57 As such, research projects will fall outside the definition of dumping, provided they are not contrary to the aims of the London Convention or Protocol. (As discussed above, the definition of “dumping” in the London Convention and Protocol excludes the “placement of matter for a purpose other than mere disposal,” where such placement is not contrary to the aims of the Convention or Protocol.)
Resolution LC-LP.1 calls for a case-by-case assessment of research proposals.58 An Assessment Framework for Scientific Research Involving Ocean Fertilization was adopted in October 2010.59 The 2010 framework provides for a two-stage assessment process, beginning with an “initial assessment” to consider whether the project “has proper scientific attributes and qualifies as “legitimate scientific research,” followed by an “environmental assessment” to evaluate its potential effects on the marine environment and measures to mitigate those effects.60
The 2010 framework envisages that the initial and environmental assessments will be conducted by the country in whose jurisdiction the project will take place. According to the framework, countries “should” establish processes for consulting with “all stakeholders,” including other potentially affected countries. Following consultation, and based on the initial and environmental assessments, the country with jurisdiction over the project must determine whether or not it is contrary to the aims of the London Convention/Protocol. The framework states that countries “should” only conclude that a project is not contrary to the aims of the London Convention/Protocol if “conditions are in place to ensure that, as far as practicable, environmental disturbance would be minimized, and the scientific benefits maximized.”61 The framework recommends that action be taken to “manage and mitigate risks” and states that this may be achieved by imposing “temporal restrictions (e.g.,
56 Art. 1-2 & note 3, Resolution LC-LP.1 (2008) on the Regulation of Ocean Fertilization, Oct. 31, 2008.
57 Art. 3, Resolution LC-LP.1 (2008).
58 Art. 4-5, Resolution LC-LP.1 (2008).
59 Resolution LC-LP.2 (2010) on the Assessment Framework for Scientific Research Involving Ocean Fertilization, Oct. 14, 2010.
60 Annex 6, Resolution LC-LP.2 (2010).
61 Annex 6, Resolution LC-LP.2 (2010).
during certain oceanographic conditions or biologically important times for species of concern), spatial restrictions (e.g., proximity to areas of special concern and value), and delivery restrictions (e.g., substances, tracers, amounts, repetition)” on projects.62 Additionally, according to the framework, projects should be carefully monitored and a contingency plan developed to enable prompt response (including “cessation of fertilization activities”) if environmental impacts are more severe than anticipated.63 (Note that these recommendations do not apply to projects that are classified as “dumping” and permitted under the London Convention or Protocol.)
Resolution LC-LP.1 (2008) declares that nonresearch ocean fertilization projects “should be considered as contrary to the aims of the Convention and Protocol” and thus “should not be allowed.” That directive is not legally binding, however. Past studies (e.g., Scott, 2013; Webb et al., 2021) have concluded that parties to the London Convention, including the United States, could issue permits authorizing nonresearch ocean fertilization projects that do not involve the discharge of any blacklisted substance.
Building on Resolution LC-LP.1 (2008), in October 2013, the parties to the London Protocol agreed to amend that instrument to establish a new regulatory framework for “marine geoengineering” defined as:
a deliberate intervention in the marine environment to manipulate natural processes, including to counteract anthropogenic climate change and/or its impacts, and that has the potential to result in deleterious effects, especially where those effects may be widespread, long lasting or severe.64
The 2013 amendment provides that:
Contracting Parties shall not allow the placement of matter into the sea from vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea for marine geoengineering activities listed in annex 4, unless the listing provides that the activity or the subcategory of an activity may be authorized under a permit.65
Annex 4 currently only lists ocean fertilization (as defined above). In the future, Annex 4 could be expanded to include other ocean CDR techniques, which involve the addition of materials to the oceans. The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) has established a working group to “[p]rovide advice to the London Parties to assist them in identifying those marine geoengineering techniques that might be sensible to consider for listing in” Annex 4.66 Researchers (e.g., Brent et al., 2019; Webb et al., 2021) have concluded that ocean alkalinity enhancement and seaweed cultivation could be included in Annex 4. However, according to Brent et al. (2019), artificial upwelling and downwelling are unlikely to qualify for inclusion because they “involve[ ] the transfer of water/nutrients from one part of the ocean to another, rather than the introduction of new matter.” On this view, artificial upwelling and downwelling would not constitute “dumping” for the purposes of the London Convention or Protocol, and thus not be subject to those instruments or the 2013 amendment.
In its current form, Annex 4 prohibits the issuance of permits for ocean fertilization projects, except those involving legitimate scientific research.67 The process set out in the 2010 assessment framework is to be used to determine whether ocean fertilization projects qualify as legitimate sci-
62 Annex 6, Resolution LC-LP.2 (2010).
63 Annex 6, Resolution LC-LP.2 (2010).
64 Annex 1, art. 1, Resolution LP.4(8), Amendment to the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 to Regulate Marine Geoengineering, Oct. 18, 2013.
65 Annex 1, art. 1, Resolution LP.4(8).
66 See http://www.gesamp.org/work/groups/41.
67 Annex 4, art. 1.2 & 1.3, Resolution LP.4(8).
entific research that can be permitted.68 The 2013 amendment also includes a general assessment framework that may be used for other types of marine geoengineering activities if or when they are listed in Annex 4.69
The 2013 amendment had not yet entered into force as of August 2021. Under the terms of the London Protocol, to enter into force, amendments must be ratified by at least two-thirds of the parties to the Protocol.70 As of August 2021, just 6 parties (Estonia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom), out of 53, had ratified the 2013 amendment, which is well below the two-thirds threshold (IMO, 2021, p. 566). Even if the two-thirds threshold is met, the amendment will only take effect for countries that are party to the London Protocol and have ratified the amendment. The amendment will not affect the United States and other countries that are party only to the London Convention.
Other Relevant International Agreements
A range of other international agreements could apply to ocean CDR activities in some circumstances. Examples include the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
Additionally, in June 2015, the United Nations General Assembly agreed to develop a new agreement under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (commonly referred to as the “Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction” or “BBNJ” Agreement). Brent et al. (2019) suggested that the new agreement could incorporate rules relating to ocean CDR.
Domestic U.S. Law Relevant to Ocean CDR
There are currently no domestic U.S. laws specifically targeting ocean CDR. However, depending on the ocean CDR technique employed, projects could be subject to various general U.S. environmental and other laws. For example, several coastal states have general aquaculture laws, which could apply to some seaweed cultivation projects.
The application of existing U.S. law to ocean CDR has been the subject of little research (see, e.g., Janasie and Nichols, 2018; Webb, 2020; Prall, 2021; Webb et al., 2021). One ongoing project, led by researchers at Columbia University, is examining the application of U.S. environmental law to several ocean CDR techniques. To date, however, the researchers have only published an analysis of laws applicable to ocean alkalinity enhancement and seaweed cultivation (Webb et al., 2021). Other studies have examined the U.S. laws governing the sub-seabed storage of CO2 that could occur in some ocean CDR projects (e.g., involving electrochemical engineering) (Webb and Gerrard, 2018, 2019). All of the studies to date have focused primarily on the application of federal environmental law to ocean CDR. There has been little analysis of potentially applicable state and local laws, implications for tribal rights, liability, and other issues.
The U.S. laws applicable to ocean CDR research and deployment will depend on where projects occur. Near-shore projects occurring within state waters (i.e., up to 3, or in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 nautical miles from shore) may be subject to U.S. federal, state, and/or local laws. Only federal law will apply to projects that occur entirely within federal waters (i.e., beyond state waters, up to
68 Preamble, para. 3 & Annex 4, art. 1.3, Resolution LP.4(8). See also Resolution LC-LP.2 (2010) on the Assessment Framework for Scientific Research Involving Ocean Fertilization, Oct. 14, 2010.
69 Annex 5, Resolution LP.4(8).
70 Art. 21, London Protocol.
200 nautical miles from shore). Some projects (e.g., certain types of ocean alkalinity enhancement) may necessitate onshore activities (e.g., mining) that are subject to different laws.
A full review of all U.S. federal, state, and local laws potentially applicable to ocean CDR is not attempted here. However, in Table 2.3, we provide a non-exhaustive list of key federal environmental laws that could have implications for the use of different ocean CDR techniques. Those laws can be divided into five broad categories as follows:
- Environmental Review Laws: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and state equivalents may apply where ocean CDR projects are undertaken, approved, or supported by a federal or state government entity. Briefly, NEPA requires preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for any major project undertaken, approved, or supported by a federal agency that “significantly affect[s] the quality of the human environment” (42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C)). The EIS must include an analysis of the natural, economic, social, and cultural resource effects of the project and alternatives (42 U.S.C. § 4332(c); 49 C.F.R. Part 1502). It must be developed with public input, and state and federal agencies may also be required to consult with Native American tribes (40 C.F.R. Part 1503).
- Species Protection Laws: Ocean CDR projects affecting marine species or their habitats may implicate various federal laws. One example is the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which requires each federal agency to “insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by [it] . . . is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species” (16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2)). To that end, agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about any action that could affect terrestrial species (including coastal species such as sea otters and polar bears), and with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) about any action that could affect marine species (16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2)). Consultation with NMFS is also required where a federal agency action could harm “essential fish habitat” designated under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) (16 U.S.C. § 1855(b)(2)). The ESA and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) also prohibit government and private actors from killing, harming, or otherwise “taking” endangered species and marine mammals, respectively (16 U.S.C. §§ 1538(a)(1)(B)-(C) & 1372(a)). Regional fisheries councils established under the MSFCMA develop fisheries management plans that are designed to restore depleted stocks and set annual catch limits to prevent overfishing (16 U.S.C. § 1852).
- Coastal and Ocean Management Laws: The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) requires federal agency activities that have coastal effects to be consistent, to the maximum extent practicable, with any applicable state coastal management plan (16 U.S.C. § 1456(c)(1)-(2)). Prior to undertaking any activities with coastal effects, the relevant federal agency must consult with affected states to ensure consistency (16 U.S.C. § 1456(c)(1)(C); 15 C.F.R. § 930.34). This requirement would be triggered where a federal agency undertakes or authorizes an ocean CDR project that could affect land or water use or natural resources in state waters or adjacent shorelands (16 U.S.C. § 1456(c)(1)(A); 15 C.F.R. § 930.31). Additional requirements would apply where ocean CDR projects are conducted in, or affect, areas designated as marine sanctuaries under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA). Permits are required to stop or anchor vessels, submerge grappling, suction, and other devices, install seabed cables, and perform certain other activities within marine sanctuaries (15 C.F.R. §§ 922.61 & 922.62). It is unlawful to “destroy, cause the loss of, or injure” any living or nonliving resource that contributes to the conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archaeological, educational, or esthetic value of a marine sanctuary (16 U.S.C. §§ 1432(8) & 1436(1)).
- Ocean Dumping Laws: Ocean CDR projects that involve the discharge of materials into ocean waters may be regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA) or Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA). The CWA applies to the discharge of certain materials, classified as “dredge or fill” materials or “pollutants” (including “rock”), within 3 nautical miles of the U.S. coast (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1342, 1344, & 1362). The MPRSA applies to discharges of any material from a vessel, aircraft, or manmade structure within 12 nautical miles from the coast and in other areas where the materials dumped were transported from the United States or on a U.S.-registered vessel or aircraft (33 U.S.C. §§ 1402 & 1411-1413). Both the CWA and MPRSA require permits for discharges (33 U.S.C. §§ 1342, 1344, & 1412-1413).
- Seabed Use Laws: Use of the seabed underlying state waters (e.g., to anchor structures) is regulated by the relevant coastal state and typically requires a lease or other authorization therefrom. Authorization from the federal government is required to use the seabed underlying federal waters (known as the outer continental shelf). The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) authorizes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, within the Department of the Interior, to issue leases for energy and mineral development and related activities on the outer continental shelf (43 U.S.C. § 1337). Currently, however, there is no framework for leasing the outer continental shelf for other purposes (e.g., ocean CDR). Structures in both federal and state waters may also require approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA, 33 U.S.C. § 403) and the U.S. Coast Guard under the Aids to Navigation Program (33 C.F.R. Part 64).
The application of U.S. law to ocean CDR projects will differ depending on precisely where each project takes place and the precise activities involved. Most ocean CDR techniques involve some active intervention in the marine environment, for example, the installation of structures (e.g., pipes) or discharge of materials (e.g., iron) in ocean waters. One exception is ecosystem recovery, which may be achieved through more passive approaches, such as changes in fisheries and ocean management. Those changes may, in some circumstances, further the goals of existing domestic environmental laws (see Chapter 6). As such, implementing ecosystem recovery-based approaches may be simpler, from a legal perspective, than pursuing other ocean CDR techniques. Techniques that involve installing structures or discharging materials into ocean waters could be subject to numerous permitting and other legal requirements. Different requirements will apply to different techniques. Initial research focused on seaweed cultivation and ocean alkalinity enhancement indicates that projects will often require multiple federal and state permits (Webb et al., 2021). In many cases, there are no established permitting processes, leading to significant uncertainty as to how projects will be treated. Formulating permitting processes early on could help to facilitate research and, if deemed appropriate, full-scale deployment of ocean CDR techniques. Prior to any research or deployment, extensive consultation will generally be required with affected communities, Native American tribes, government bodies, and other stakeholders.
Establishing a robust legal framework for ocean CDR is essential to ensure that research and (if deemed appropriate) deployment is conducted in a safe and responsible manner that minimizes the risk of negative environmental and other outcomes. There is currently no single, comprehensive legal framework for ocean CDR research or deployment, either internationally or in the United States. At the international level, while steps have been taken to regulate certain ocean CDR techniques—most notably, ocean fertilization—under existing international agreements, significant
uncertainty and gaps remain. Domestically, in the United States, initial studies suggest that a range of general environmental and other laws could apply to ocean CDR research and deployment. Those laws were, however, developed to regulate other activities and may be poorly suited to ocean CDR. Further study is needed to evaluate the full range of U.S. laws that could apply to different ocean CDR techniques and explore possible reforms to strengthen the legal framework to ensure that it appropriately balances the need for further research to improve understanding of ocean CDR techniques against the potential risks of such research, and put in place appropriate safeguards to prevent or minimize negative environmental and other outcomes.
2.2 SOCIAL DIMENSIONS AND JUSTICE CONSIDERATIONS
Ocean CDR has a number of social dimensions—definitions to help describe these dimensions are included in Box 2.1. These include public and community acceptance of ocean CDR, the social and economic impacts of developing new industries, the social relations that those new industries and practices will involve (i.e., between workers and companies, between communities, between members of households as men’s and women’s work and roles are affected by these new industries), the political dynamics of ocean CDR, and the social implications from the environmental impacts of ocean CDR. In other words, the social dimensions and justice considerations of ocean CDR are broader than “social acceptance” and will need to be researched and addressed if ocean CDR is to be supported, effective, and just.
However, while it is possible to map out potential social dimensions of ocean CDR, the empirical evidence base for making strong claims about how they will manifest is constrained because the deployment of large-scale CDR is in the future. Marine carbon removal approaches in particular are emerging and at an early stage of technological readiness. Aside from ocean fertilization, there are very few studies of the social dimensions of marine CDR (Bertram and Merk, 2020; Cox et al., 2021).
Crucially, the social implications do not inhere in the technologies; they are influenced by the particulars of deployment and policy. It is challenging to identify and quantify benefits or risks for technologies or practices in the abstract, because many of them emerge from the ways in which they are deployed. This implies that social science research anticipating the social dimensions of ocean CDR will need to be place specific and multisited. But because policies influencing ocean CDR will be developed at state, national, and international levels, addressing the social dynamics will also require multiscalar research that can link national and international actions with place-specific implications, as well as understand how place-specific developments influence policy.
Insights for Ocean CDR from Analog Activities in the Marine Space
Examining other ocean activities can suggest considerations for the social dynamics of ocean CDR. Activities that include utilization of oceans for cultivation (aquaculture) or environmental outcomes (conservation, blue carbon, and other ecosystem services) are relevant to techniques such as marine kelp sequestration and ecosystem recovery. Other industrial uses of the sea, such as mineral extraction (deep-sea mining, oil and gas extraction), renewable energy, or offshore carbon capture storage (CCS) will be relevant to anticipating the social dynamics of techniques perceived as industrial, or those that involve geologic sequestration.
How applicable these analogs are, and whether and how people understand marine CDR through them, is a key research question. People make sense of new developments based on preexisting knowledge structures that are seen as related (Koschinsky et al., 2018). For example, for deep-sea mining, which is relatively unknown to publics, it is uncertain whether it will be anchored to terrestrial mining, oil or gas extraction, fracking, etc.; it would be connected to different images
TABLE 2.3 Application of Laws to U.S. Ocean Zonal Jurisdictions
|Ocean CDR Technique|
|Location||Ecosystem Recovery||Seaweed Cultivation||Nutrient Fertilization||Artificial Upwelling/Downwelling||Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement||Electrochemical Engineering|
|U.S. state waters||NEPAa
|MPRSA CWA NEPAa
|MPRSA CWA NEPAa
|U.S. federal waters (within territorial sea)||NEPAa
|U.S. federal waters (within EEZ)||NEPAa
a If project is undertaken, authorized, or funded by the federal government.
b If structures installed in connection with project obstruct navigation.
c If project could affect land or water use or natural resources in state waters.
d If project involves the discharge of any material into ocean waters.
e If project could affect endangered or threatened species or their critical habitat.
f If project could affect marine mammals.
g If project is conducted, or could affect resources, in a marine sanctuary.
h If project could affect waters or submerged land designated as essential fish habitat.
i If project involves use of the seabed.
j If vessels registered, or loaded in, the United States are used to discharge material.
k If project is performed by a person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
and knowledges (Koschinsky et al., 2018). Research has shown that CDR techniques associated with CCS on land can be associated with fracking (Cox et al., 2021). In other words, for each marine CDR technique, there may be top-of-mind associations through which people “read” CDR, which may differ between individuals or communities. However, what those analogs are has not been studied.
The literature on social acceptance and social impacts of offshore renewable energy, offshore CCS, deep-sea extraction, aquaculture, blue carbon and payments for marine ecosystem services, and marine conservation suggests the following seven takeaways that are relevant for marine CDR:
1. Marine activities are not necessarily more acceptable than terrestrial activities. Social acceptance for ocean activities has unique challenges, especially in terms of defining who are legitimate stakeholders for offshore projects.
Social acceptance for ocean industries and practices brings challenges in terms of specifying a community, property rights, and so-called “not in my backyard” or NIMBYism (Soma and Haggett, 2015). NIMBYism is the objection to something undesirable being built or situated in one’s neighborhood (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). For example, when the company Nautilus Minerals wanted to engage in deep-sea mining off of Papua New Guinea, some scholars observed that it had to create a community, and that creating a public to engage with means the results are unstable and partial (Filer and Gabriel, 2018; Childs, 2019). Nautilus established a new concept called “coastal area of benefit” (CAB) based on an artificial sense of spatial boundaries, which was critiqued by communities outside the area who were denied access to its material benefits (Childs, 2019). More populous communities were defined as outside the CAB, which reduced the financial burden to the company (Childs, 2019). These challenges with defining affected communities will apply to some marine CDR techniques.
Public rights at sea imply that people feel a sense of ownership over natural resources such as seascapes, even if they do not literally own them (Haggett, 2008; Soma and Haggett, 2015). Even when there is strong sociopolitical acceptance of technologies in the abstract, there may be local opposition to specific proposals. With offshore wind, this has to do with the visual impacts of big projects on the character of the seascape, impacts on tourism, and concerns about decision-making and justice (Devine-Wright and Wiersma, 2020). Spatial proximity has been found to be a factor in support of offshore wind, with attitudes becoming favorable at a greater distance (Krueger et al., 2011; Devine-Wright and Wiersma, 2020). This may also be the case with many ocean CDR projects, but again, this has not been studied.
However, studies in renewable energy have moved away from NIMBYism as an explanation for rejection, which is also relevant offshore (Soma and Haggett, 2015). Moreover, research with stakeholders and publics in Scotland has challenged a narrative that offshore CCS would be more acceptable than onshore CCS (Mabon et al., 2014). More generally, some analysts have argued that ocean CDR would face greater public acceptability challenges than terrestrial CDR, since the ocean is perceived as fragile, critical for human life, emotionally valuable, and difficult to experiment upon in a controlled way (Cox et al., 2021). This is worth keeping in mind to the extent that marine CDR might be proposed as a “solution” for social opposition to CDR deployments on land.
2. Carbon removal will be only one of many factors driving change in marine environments, and its social dimensions need to be assessed in the context of blue growth and marine conservation goals to maximize co-benefits and avoid unintended harms to other goals.
The wider social context of ocean CDR is that of aspirationally transitioning to a sustainable blue economy (Claudet et al., 2020), on the one hand, and that of a “blue acceleration” of competing interest for ocean food, material, and space on the other hand (Jouffray et al., 2020). Ocean CDR needs to be understood in this wider context, because these twin conversations about the future of the ocean—of not only how to save or restore the ocean and creating sustainable ocean practices, but also how ocean space is being industrialized and increasingly under pressure as a new frontier to exploit—will shape how communities and policy makers around the world view ocean CDR. For example, in a study of offshore CCS, for publics and stakeholders, CO2 storage was only one of many factors driving change in the marine and coastal environment, with more concerns about offshore wind than CCS, as well as concerns about ocean acidification and extreme weather (Mabon et al., 2014). What happens in these other domains will interact with the social dynamics of ocean CDR.
Ocean CDR must avoid conflicting with other environmental aims. The literature on payment for ecosystem services emphasizes avoiding incentives that reward maximizing payments for carbon at the loss of another service, such as incentivizing fast-growing mangrove stands to maxi-
mize carbon credits (Lau, 2013). This has led to a discussion of bundling or stacking ecosystem services (Lau, 2013). Research on multitrophic aquaculture or mariculture also emphasizes holistic frameworks that can optimize for local food consumptions or livelihoods rather than for overall profits (Cisneros-Montemayor et al., 2019). Synergies are being explored between sectors, such as mariculture and offshore wind farms for farming bivalves and algae (Cisneros-Montemayor et al., 2019); assessments of marine CDR could evaluate it along these existing developments.
Notably, the acceptability of ocean CDR could be constrained by missteps in both the blue economy space and the terrestrial CDR/climate tech space. A report on social license in the Blue Economy for the World Oceans Council noted that the loss of social license to operate in one sector could impact the level of societal trust in the broader Blue Economy concept and lead to concerns about “blue-washing” (Voyer and van Leeuwen, 2018).
3. Perceptions of “naturalness” are important in terrestrial CDR, and could affect the acceptability of ocean CDR techniques as well as the scale at which they are deployed.
With terrestrial CDR, approaches perceived as natural are appraised by publics as more favorable (Merk et al., 2019; Wolske et al., 2019). This seems to hold true for ocean CDR, though evidence is limited (Bertram and Merk, 2020). In some early studies, ocean fertilization was appraised more negatively than land-based CDR, with higher perceived risks, and was perceived as an engineered rather than natural approach (Amelung and Funke, 2014; Bertram and Merk, 2020; Jobin and Siegrist, 2020).
Naturalness is socially constructed, and the ocean may be perceived as a special natural environment. The sea has its own sense of place distinct from the mainland (Gee, 2019; Devine-Wright and Wiersma, 2020). In a dialogue about seafloor exploration and mining, communities, NGOs, and marine users perceived the marine environment as more sensitive and fragile than the terrestrial environment (Mason et al., 2010). Beliefs about the sea or ocean have been identified as important in understanding how people view offshore wind (Bidwell, 2017). What some literature in renewable energy has found to be important is “place-technology fit,” with place having attributes of meaning and attachment (Devine-Wright and Wiersma, 2020). Whether the place fits the technology can be related to what else is going on there; that is, in a study of offshore wind in Guernsey, it was found that certain areas were seen to be more pristine and disfavorable for wind, but areas near industrial sites were seen as more acceptable (Devine-Wright and Wiersma, 2020).
Scale may be a key parameter in terms of naturalness. For example, macroalgal farming may be natural, but in a study of social license for commercial seaweed farming in Scotland and France, acceptability was inversely related to the scale of the industry and the area occupied by the farms (Billing et al., 2021). As one respondent put it, it is important to stay at the local level; interviewees critiqued high-level European strategies for developing “blue gold” that they felt did not account for local impacts such as site abandonment (which could leave structures in the sea), introduction of invasive species, and seaweed washing ashore (Billing et al., 2021). Issues with large-scale aquaculture were projected onto the seaweed industry. Small-scale seaweed cultivation, however, was described as simple and organic, and based on relationships and trust, contrasting with large-scale cultivation, which was associated with technocracy (Billing et al., 2021).
More generally, understandings and representations of the ocean differ across cultures; for example, in Pacific island cultures it may be valued as a spiritual heritage and common good that is not distinct from the land (Koschinsky et al., 2018). So for example, when a deep-sea mining company wanting to operate in Papua New Guinea tried to mitigate concerns about fish stocks by explaining that ocean space was divided into three layers that did not mix, that was rejected by communities, who understand the ocean to be connected and inhabited by spiritual beings (Childs, 2020). Indigenous peoples around the world have their own conceptions of the sea, and coastal
Indigenous and First Nations peoples in North America have their own worldviews that influence their traditional marine management practices, for example, around treating nonhuman kin respectfully (Lepofsky and Caldwell, 2013). This means that there is not just one generic way perceptions of naturalness will impact ocean CDR, and it implies a place-specific approach to social science research on it. In other words, deliberative or qualitative methods would be needed to understand how people in various cultures understand the social and cultural dimensions of marine CDR, including how perceptions of the value and role of nature shape support or opposition to marine CDR.
4. Stakeholders and publics will be concerned about how to govern novel risks, as well as reversibility.
Ocean CDR proposals may be perceived as highly risky (Cox et al., 2021). Salient dimensions of risk include the degree of control that people have, how voluntary it is, how familiar the risk is, and how severe the consequences might be (Cox et al., 2021). There will be questions of how well equipped institutions are to manage these risks. In a study of offshore CCS, respondents wondered whether existing governance could deal with something where the effects are likely to be irreversible and uncertain across long periods of time and across complex three-dimensional volumes (Mabon et al., 2014). Arguments based upon the precautionary principle may evolve, as they did in deep-sea mining—it was difficult to prove in advance that a deep sea mine would not have negative impacts on ocean life that coastal communities valued (Filer and Gabriel, 2018). There are also questions about the reversibility of ocean CDR, here meaning not in terms of the permanence of the carbon sequestration, but rather referring to the ability to undo interventions and their unanticipated consequences (Bellamy et al., 2017).
5. Social benefits will be important for social acceptance.
The Blue Economy discourse often focuses on the contribution of ocean economic sectors to global gross domestic product, and the amount of jobs that can be provided ($1.5 trillion and 31 million jobs). However, there has been less attention to how these benefits are distributed, even though the social aspects are key to achieving sustainable management of the oceans (Cisneros-Montemayor et al., 2019).
Benefits could involve jobs, new funds for community priorities based on taxation or profits from developments, and so on. The definition is imprecise, and not enough attention has been paid to what concrete benefits might be. In the literature on payment for ecosystem services, benefits are often described in terms of incentives, including monetary or in-kind incentives (e.g., capacity building, training, infrastructure building, and codification of access rights) (Lau, 2013). The cultural context of the community is important for determining the incentives or benefits. Compensation can be one form of benefit, but deserves more research (Walker et al., 2014; Soma and Haggett, 2015). Public ownership of projects as a means of benefiting communities has also been identified as deserving more research (Soma and Haggett, 2015).
Co-benefits are sometimes discussed rather than benefits (i.e., the carbon sequestration is considered primary, and the social benefits are co-benefits). There are protocols to assess co-benefits: within the blue carbon sector, voluntary carbon markets have considered Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards, and “Social Carbon” co-benefits (Cisneros-Montemayor et al., 2019). However, for communities, the co-benefits, rather than the carbon sequestration, may be the primary consideration.
Literature on sustainable coastal and marine management describes a tension: if funds are spent efficiently, more conservation could be incentivized; yet if the poor are providing these
ecosystem services for the lowest payment, then the burden falls disproportionately on them, and they may not be able to refuse payments, meaning that the situation is less than voluntary (Lau, 2013). Paying for ecosystem services could also lock poor coastal communities into agreements that prevent them from using their resources more profitably in the future. These considerations are important for blue carbon and kelp aquaculture, but potentially apply broadly to other CDR techniques as well—the cheapest CDR per ton may not be the most equitable or socially beneficial.
6. Changes in access to common pool resources related to implementation of marine CDR are a concern that needs to be addressed.
Coastal and marine resources have traditionally been open access and an important source of livelihoods. Studies of payment for marine ecosystem services indicate that both formal and de facto changes in use and access rights will affect the communities, as well as the success of the intervention (Lau, 2013). With payment for ecosystem services, even if the goal is not to alleviate poverty, equity and poverty alleviation will need to be addressed in designing the schemes (Lau, 2013). Blue carbon projects have also been critiqued for pushing out traditional users (Cisneros-Montemayor et al., 2019). The social lessons from blue carbon projects might reasonably be the same for things such as kelp cultivation—incorporating livelihood aspects as part of project design, involving local community at all stages of planning and implementation, and considering the needs of local communities during development can ensure that cultivation or sequestration in one area does not lead to activities that would reduce carbon sequestration elsewhere (Wylie et al., 2016). An examination of coastal carbon sequestration projects noted that the protection and government management of natural resources can lead to traditional management systems being replaced, and communities losing their ability to change their management strategies in response to environmental change (Herr et al., 2019). Another analysis of coastal carbon, on mangrove ecosystems in the Philippines, critiqued the latest framing of mangroves under a new global framing of “blue carbon” as bearing technocratic and financialized ideals of sustainability, and argued that the need to consult and benefit local communities is widespread in discourse but rarely has clear implementations and strategies (Song et al., 2021). The concern is that coastal communities may lose their customary rights, and their interests will be marginalized at the demands of international priorities (Song et al., 2021).
7. Public engagement will be important for social acceptance and procedural justice in ocean CDR, though it is not a guarantee of these.
Public engagement involves a dialogue between scientists and nonscientists that attempts to involve the public in discussions about the direction and pace of technology development (Corner et al., 2012). Public engagement is often seen as lying on one end of a spectrum of public participation, with public informing or consulting on the other end, as a more limited or one-way form of participation that can be manipulative (Arnstein, 1969). Rationales for public engagement include normative rationales (dialogue is an important part of democracy; engaging the public on important decisions and new technologies is the right thing to do); substantive rationales (public engagement can improve the quality of the research); and instrumental rationales (it can increase legitimacy and trust) (Corner et al., 2012; Fiorino 2016).
Public engagement has been widely discussed in regard to science, to emerging technologies broadly, and to energy technologies more specifically. Public engagement is one factor in the persistence of social acceptance, and the timing, content, and processes of public engagement are important (Soma and Haggett, 2015). Public engagement is no guarantee of project development: consultations perceived as checkbox exercises could worsen or generate opposition (Soma
and Haggett, 2015). Thin and consultative participatory engagements can result in participatory exhaustion or backlash (MacArthur, 2015). The literature emphasizes the importance of public engagement; generally speaking, though, some recent theoretical research has discussed the need to move away from fixed assumptions of what it means to participate and technocratic processes toward an understanding of participation that focuses on diverse collectives of participation, and trying to build a system in which multiple forms of public involvement can happen (Chilvers et al., 2018). There are many recommendations of best practices for public engagement and participation in decisions regarding the environment, some of which are discussed in reports such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Public Participation Guide (aimed at government agencies) (U.S. EPA, 2021) or the National Research Council’s Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making (NRC, 2008). When it comes to public engagement in research and development more specifically, it will be important to make sure the results of engagements feed back into research, involve a diversity of researchers, and allocate sufficient time and resources for the process.
Environmental Justice and Climate Justice
Environmental justice is a goal, a movement, and a field of research. Environmental justice as a movement began with groups concerned with civil rights, the environment, worker health and safety, Indigenous land rights, environmental racism, and more (Schlosberg and Collins, 2014). The definition of environmental justice used by the EPA is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
However, environmental justice is a multidimensional concept, which includes distributive, procedural, reparative, intergenerational, and recognitive dimensions (Holifield, 2013). Distributive justice is concerned with the fair allocation of environmental risks or harms as well as the ability to access environmental benefits. Procedural justice involves participation in the decision-making processes around environmental risks and benefits. Corrective or reparative justice involves whether the restorative measures or penalties for environmental harms are fair. Intergenerational justice involves the fair treatment of future generations. Recognitive justice means that policies and programs meet the standard of fairly considering and representing the cultures, values, and situations of affected parties (Whyte, 2011). In the context of Native communities, tribal cultures may have their own conceptions of environmental justice that have existed before nontribal discussions (Whyte, 2011). Conceptions of justice may also include nonhumans. For example, a study of conceptions of justice in two Papua New Guinea fishing communities found that respondents articulated fish as subjects of justice; needing to rest, having a chance to breed, and so on (Lau et al., 2021).
Ocean carbon removal technologies will have different environmental justice implications based on how they are deployed, including the policies that support them and the actors and motivations driving them. For example, a macroalgae project led by a community that is compensating for its own hard-to-abate emissions would have different justice implications than one instituted by a company who is selling carbon removal credits to another company, even though the activity might look the same from a biophysical perspective, in terms of carbon flows. These two different deployments would have different distributive and procedural justice implications, in terms of where the benefits flow and how decisions are made.
Climate justice, which developed out of environmental justice discourse (Agyeman et al., 2016), emphasizes that climate change is not just a matter of warming, but of justice. Climate inequalities exist within and between nations, and climate change has disproportionate impacts on historically marginalized or underserved communities. Those who have contributed the least to the problem are bearing the greatest harms, including communities in the global South, Indigenous
groups, and future generations. Historical responsibility approaches to climate justice are based on the polluter pays principle, while rights-based approaches emphasize the right to develop out of poverty before bearing the responsibility of mitigation (Schlosberg and Collins, 2014).
Climate justice considerations go beyond the impacts of particular approaches to the entire concept of carbon removal and its role in net-zero scenarios. Carbon markets have historically been seen by the environmental justice movement as giveaways to polluters at the expense of environmental justice communities (Schlosberg and Collins, 2014), and policies that allow continued pollution in one area with removal in another area will naturally be questioned. For example, civil society organizations have critiqued blue carbon for turning the carbon ecosystems into a commodity that legitimizes continued emissions elsewhere (Song et al., 2021). An analysis of public engagement with carbon removal found that respondents were concerned with “environmental dumping,” or analogies with the dumping of polluting processes on poorer populations (McLaren et al., 2016), which may be a particular issue with marine carbon removal given the phenomenon of ocean or marine dumping. There is a question of who has to bear the burden of carbon removal, and who is enjoying liberties because of it. Scholars have analyzed fair-share emissions and carbon removal quotas (Pozo et al., 2020; Dooley et al., 2021). A particular concern is that offsetting via carbon removal could deprive poor nations and regions of “cheap” carbon removal options and make their path toward net zero harder while giving wealthy nations an easier path (Carton et al., 2021; Rogelj et al., 2021). There are intergenerational justice concerns with creating a temporal equivalence between emissions and removals that puts more burden on future generations (Hansen et al., 2017; Lawford-Smith and Currie, 2017; Carton et al., 2021).
When thinking about the justice implications of CDR, it is also valuable to weigh the counter-factual scenario of not having CDR available. Ethicists have also argued that the use of large-scale negative-emission technologies may be permissible due to the extreme harms that would result from failing to stabilize the climate (Lenzi, 2021).
Mitigation deterrence, or reducing or delaying mitigation, is another key climate justice issue that has been a long-standing concern of climate advocates (McLaren et al., 2016; Campbell-Arvai et al., 2017; Markusson et al., 2018). For example, if a CDR activity is perceived as being substitutable with mitigation, this can lead to mitigation deterrence; science is central to this, because it helps create new objects in which to invest (Markusson et al., 2018). CDR could also produce rebound effects, and the anticipated or imagined future availability of CDR could also delay emissions reductions (McLaren, 2020). Other scholars have pointed out that since policy makers can (and should) do both CDR and mitigation, and that framing the issue in terms of substitutable actions actually makes this substitution more likely, a risk-response feedback framework that assesses particular policy packages would be more fruitful than the framework of mitigation deterrence (Jebari et al., 2021). Regardless, the idea that carbon removal can delay cutting emissions and phasing out fossil fuels in a form of “nontransition” (Cox et al., 2020) has been cited as a key concern for publics.
Scale has emerged as a central issue in assessing the environmental and climate justice implications of CDR, in terms of both the technology and decision-making (Cox et al., 2018). Many technologies are relatively risk-free in the abstract or at small scale (Cox et al., 2018), but their social implications accrue at larger scales. Moreover, environmental justice impacts that are evident when examining local scales may be addressable only at regional or national scales (Buck, 2018), especially when thinking about complex supply chains or remote actors. There may also be demands on the global scale. Countries in the Global South may argue that in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, CDR should be deployed by developed nations who should reach net-negative levels first (Mohan et al., 2021). Environmental justice concerns are not “local issues” and climate justice concerns are not “global concerns”; a multiscalar framework is needed to research and understand them.
Coastal Community Research and Engagement
The opportunities to advance knowledge and understanding of any ocean-based carbon removal solution are greatly enhanced when the barriers to participation are removed. Recognizing this, it is critical that research and development activities incorporate equity, diversity, and inclusion with a particular focus on coastal communities, especially Indigenous communities that reside in their broadest sphere of influence (e.g., mining activities associated with alkalinity enhancements) and marginalized coastal communities (e.g., Felthoven and Kasperski, 2013). There are two aspects of this engagement: (1) research conducted in communities should follow ethical protocols for engagement, and (2) efforts should be pursued to include community members in research activities.
Following ethical protocols for engagement means complying with both Institutional Research Board processes such as university researchers might undertake when using human subjects—even if the people doing the research are not associated with a university—as well as complying with ethical procedures that local groups may have set out. Many Indigenous jurisdictions have their own ethical review protocols that pertain to research activities in their territories. One resource for engaging with Indigenous communities on ocean research is the Ocean Frontier Institute’s Indigenous Engagement Guide, published in 2021 to provide guidance on effectively and respectfully engaging and communicating with Indigenous communities (Ocean Frontier Institute and Dillon Consulting, 2021).
Including community members in research activities, or co-producing research with communities, is a growing focus in sustainability research broadly as well as coastal environmental research. This work is ongoing within the community of ocean observation monitoring as well. For the past 30 years, the global ocean observing community has gathered once a decade at the OceanObs conference, and at the 2019 conference, for the very first time, this gathering included Indigenous delegates from Canada, the United States including coastal states such as Hawaii, the South Pacific Islands, and New Zealand (Figure 2.3). An important outcome of the conference was the publication of the Coastal Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration (Indigenous Delegates at OceanObs’19, 2019) calling on the ocean community to formally recognize the traditional knowledge of Indigenous people worldwide and the commitment to establish meaningful partnerships. Ocean CDR research can build on this growing recognition of the importance of meaningful partnerships in ocean monitoring and related fields.
There are several approaches to achieve meaningful partnerships, but all should ensure that there is a full understanding of the approaches taken among the partners (Figure 2.4; Alexander et al., 2019).
Examples of test cases specific to ocean monitoring are described by Kaiser et al. (2019), one in Canada and one in New Zealand. Their recommendations for successful partnerships include practices for two-way knowledge sharing, proposal co-design, documented project plans, incorporation of educational resources, mutually agreed upon monitoring, and data and results sharing. Use of cross-cultural resources were recommended for any future ocean monitoring projects. These partnerships also have potential for greater impacts through a more robust knowledge of community needs now and going forward.
2.3 OTHER CROSSCUTTING CONSIDERATIONS
Considerations that are also important for advancing research on ocean-based carbon removal include monitoring and verification of carbon removed and other environmental impacts, valuation of added benefits including ecosystem services, the economics of different approaches, and policy mechanisms to support research and deployment (where deemed appropriate).
Monitoring for Environmental Impacts and Enhancements
Among the six approaches that are the focus of this study, four are location-specific solutions that will impact the local ecosystem—fertilization, enhanced upwelling and downwelling, alkalinity enhancement, and electrochemistry. Each of these will require tailored carbon accounting and environmental monitoring for the specific location.
For the two others—ecosystem recovery and seaweed cultivation—environmental monitoring for both negative and positive impacts would mimic the approaches described for ecosystem recovery in Chapter 6. The exception to this would be where seaweed cultivation is solely focused on growth for deepwater disposal. For this application, research is needed to understand the fate of placement of kelp mounds in deep-water environments.
The monitoring systems are summarized in Table 2.4 and described in more detail in the following text.
In the case of fertilization, the area of treatment is relatively large and thus would require a mix of monitoring systems. Satellite-based ocean color would be used to document the extent of treatment on the surface ocean. A suite of autonomous surface vehicles and water column gliders (the number would depend on the areal extent), outfitted with sensors (e.g., temperature, salinity, pressure, partial pressure of CO2 [pCO2], oxygen [O2], nutrients, nitrate, pH, turbidity, etc.) would be deployed on and beneath the treated bloom area. At least one area outside of the bloom area, but in a similar water depth and ecosystem, could be monitored with a mooring hosting similar sensors. These sensor systems would deliver an important subset of essential ocean variables (see, e.g., Danovaro et al., 2020) to document the resulting bloom size and its fate in the water column on ocean physical and chemical properties, and sediment traps would be used to document the impact on the seafloor and the carbon sequestered. Ship expeditions, used to deploy these in situ suites of sensors, would also deploy biogeochemical Argo floats throughout the area of treatment and beyond, as well as neutrally buoyant sediment traps set to capture sediment over a range of water depths, including close to the seafloor.
Approaches and scales for the application of artificial upwelling and downwelling as a carbon removal solution are in nascent stages. For upwelling, CDR is through surface ocean fertilization and, hence, monitoring would align well with that of iron fertilization, described above. It would likely also require monitoring of CO2 from the upwelled water that is released into the atmosphere prior to fertilization of the surface waters. A surface mooring with infrared, temperature, salinity, pCO2, nutrients, and O2 sensors would measure the CO2 at the surface and in the atmosphere as well as the chemistry to understand the conditions for fertilization and pH changes.
Models have shown that most of the carbon removal from upwelling would be land based because of the cooling effects of the upwelling enhancing soil uptake of CO2. This effect would also require additional monitoring of surrounding terrestrial soils.
Research for alkalinity enhancement is at a stage where the next step to advance knowledge is mesoscale experiments. Integration and development of configurations for monitoring would include in situ and robotic carbonate chemistry observation platforms and biogeochemical Argo flotillas to assess and quantify this solution’s ability to durably store CO2 in seawater. The full-cycle carbon accounting must also include any carbon-intensive energy sources used for the source rocks.
Electrochemical approaches can be characterized as an industrial plant solution where there is the ability to directly measure the tonnage of CO2 extracted, making carbon accounting straightforward. Some of the approaches include releases of water solutions of differing chemistry, and so monitoring both the positive and negative impacts on the ecosystem would be important. Many of the monitoring approaches described in the monitoring section of Chapter 6 could be tailored to the industrial electrochemical coastal or ship-based settings.
Where seaweed cultivation’s sole focus is farming kelp for deep-water disposal onto the seafloor, a monitoring program should be established in each of the ecosystem areas where kelp will be delivered to the seafloor. It is generally recognized that kelp detrital carbon is remineralized through grazing and microbial decomposition in shallow-water settings and grazing is significantly reduced in deep water, thus becoming a potential carbon sink. These same rates would also ideally be measured to assess the amount of carbon sequestered and its durability (e.g., to assess whether on the same or longer timescales as physical oceanographic estimates of deep-sea sequestration).
Experiments could be conducted in the kelp sequestration seafloor region using a combination of a single large mound (approximately production-scale size) and a series of small mounds deployed within mesh bags with varying mesh size openings that would provide a mechanism to isolate grazing by smaller colonizers to better understand individual species rates.
The rates of grazing and secondary colonization may also represent an ecosystem enhancement as a benthic succession, much like whale falls in the deep sea (Pedersen et al., 2021). Whale-fall monitoring to assess benthic successions has succeeded with the regular use of a seafloor lander equipped with a time-lapse video camera and an acoustic Doppler profiler (Aguzzi et al., 2018). This approach would be appropriate for monitoring a large kelp mound on the seafloor.
Monitoring for Certification
Scaling up negative emissions technologies will require certifiable metrics that document the amount of carbon removed, obtained from systems that accurately measure carbon removed and the durability of its removal. These data can then be used by established and trusted entities for certification, which in turn attracts financing, especially in the voluntary market.
An example that is easy to measure is electrochemical removal of CO2 where the tonnage of CO2 extracted is directly measured. The monitoring is transparent and readily certifiable.
Ocean alkalinity enhancement is more challenging because the certification would be based on foundational chemistry (well understood) combined with sensors and model results. This means that the monitoring approach used for verification and certificates must be incorporated into the design and implementation of more complex approaches. Fertilization and artificial upwelling and downwelling have similar certification challenges.
Seaweed cultivation has complexities too, especially if it is grown for multiple uses. If it is grown only for carbon sequestration in the deep sea, accounting of the carbon removal is described above in monitoring for environmental impacts and enhancements because of the dual purpose of the sensors and approaches needed. Seaweed cultivation for other purposes has the same types of certification issues as, for example, the forest industry has had in the past. Some of that carbon would go back into the atmosphere and the ocean, thus reducing its durability. Some could also be used to produce durable products. The carbon accounting would be faced with questions about additionality and carbon credits that must be accounted for and managed. Lessons learned from forestry and this sector’s offset practices (see, e.g., Gifford, 2020) could be applied to seaweed cultivation to avoid creating an ocean CO2 removal market that is viewed as fraudulent or illegitimate. Therefore it is essential to co-establish robust monitoring, accounting, and verification protocols. Interdisciplinary research can help determine what the protocols could be and how they can be robust.
Policy Support for Ocean CDR
Government policy will have a major bearing on the nature and scope of ocean CDR research and deployment (if any). In the United States, climate policy has traditionally focused on emission reductions, and CDR-specific policy remains nascent (Schenuit et al., 2021). In recent years, however, the U.S. Congress has shown an interest in CDR. The Energy Act of 2020, which was passed by Congress with bipartisan support and incorporated into the Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus spending bill, directed the Secretary of Energy to review CDR approaches (including approaches involving the “capture of carbon dioxide . . . from seawater”) and recommend policy tools to advance their deployment. The Energy Act also appropriated funding for the establishment of a government “research, development, and demonstration program . . . to test, validate, or improve technologies and strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a large scale.”
While not framed specifically as a CDR policy, the 45Q tax credit carbon capture program, which was first adopted in 2009 and significantly expanded in 2018, provides financial incentives
TABLE 2.4 Environmental Monitoring Solutions of Ocean CDR Approaches
|CDR Approach||Systems||Measurements||Capital Costs||Annual Operating Costs||Comments|
|Ecosystem recovery and seaweed cultivation||Marine protected area, Intergrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS)-type monitoring||Water quality, nutrients, biodiversity, sound, pollution; qualitative assessment of carbon removal||Existing regional systems; capital upgrades $0.5M/yr per region||$4M/yr per region||May require changing IOOS mandates|
|Ocean alkalinity enhancement||IOOS-type monitoring in the region(s) of treatment||Water quality, nutrients, biogeochemistry; modeling needed for volume of carbon removed, plus carbon intensity of mining and deploying minerals||Same as above, plus biogeochemical Argo (10 per region) = $9M and capital upgrades $0.5M/yr per region||$4M/yr per region, plus operating costs for floats (comms; personnel; shiptime) $1M/yr||May require changing IOOS mandates; determining CO2 emissions from mining and deployment also required|
|Artificial upwelling and downwelling and nutrient fertilization||Satellite data; biogeo Argo; gliders; autonomous moorings for measuring change; autonomous moorings as control; sediment traps (seafloor and mid-water)—see Figure 3.5||Surface bloom extents; water properties, nutrients, dissolved oxygen, pCO2, sediment accumulation||Existing ships, autonomous vehicles; (capital costs for autonomous moorings, sediment traps, biogeo Argo) = $5M||For the geographic area equivalent to the EXPORTS project, ship time $7M; data analyses, research AND modeling support $25M||The EXPORTS field campaign deployments conducted over a region of a couple of hundreds of km|
|Electrochemical Processes||Monitoring incorporated into the engineered processes||Costs are included in the costs for the system.||Costs are included in the costs for the system.||These solutions are engineered and controlled. Monitoring of the source of power for carbon accounting is important.|
for direct air capture and storage of CO2. Under the program, certain projects involving the geological sequestration of CO2 captured at qualifying industrial facilities or directly from the ambient air (i.e., via direct air capture) are eligible for a tax credit for their first 12 years of operation. The credit is only for projects that capture CO2 from the ambient air and sequester it onshore or offshore in sub-seabed geological formations within the U.S. territorial sea or EEZ. Other ocean-based CDR and storage projects do not qualify for the credit.
There is general agreement among climate-focused economists that scaling up CDR, including ocean-based approaches, will require significant government spending (Bednar et al., 2019) and internationally agreed-upon financial incentive policies (Honegger and Reiner, 2018). Some studies have recommended that governments establish CDR-specific policy goals and mechanisms that are separate from, but aligned with, other climate policies, for example, dealing with emissions reductions (e.g., Bellamy, 2018; Geden and Schenuit, 2020). For example, Geden and Schenuit (2020) have argued that countries’ net-zero targets “should be explicitly divided into emission reduction targets and removal targets,” and separate policy frameworks adopted for each. Bellamy (2018) concluded that further empirical research is needed to evaluate policy options for incentivizing CDR.
While it may seem premature to explore policy options to support ocean CDR, particularly given the early stage of development of many techniques, delaying policy engagement could impact future CDR scale-up. In this regard, Lomax et al. (2015) have warned that “excluding [CDR] from near-term policy attention would reduce any incentives for businesses and research organizations to expend effort and investment on advancement of [CDR], and to engage with policy to develop suitable support for [CDR]-oriented businesses.” Lomax et al. (2015) argue that policy frameworks should “keep the [CDR] option open.” However, it is equally important that policy not lock in future deployment of CDR or deter other actions to address climate change, particularly emission reductions. Past studies have recommended policy designs to reduce the risk of mitigation deterrence (McLaren et al., 2019; Geden and Schenuit, 2020).
CDR policy has been the subject of relatively little previous research. Some studies have explored the use of carbon pricing, credit, or similar market mechanisms to pay for CDR (e.g., Honegger and Reiner, 2018; Platt et al., 2018; Fajardy et al., 2019; Rickels et al., 2020). Fajardy et al. (2019) found that many existing carbon pricing schemes “only penalize [carbon dioxide] emissions and do not remunerate removal” and, in any event, existing carbon prices are generally too low to stimulate CDR deployment. They argue that, unless carbon pricing schemes change and carbon prices increase, some form of “negative emissions credit” will be needed to pay for CDR. This would require accurate and verifiable carbon accounting (discussed above). The complexities associated with, and current lack of standardization in, carbon accounting have been identified as potential barriers to the use of carbon pricing or credit mechanisms (Lomax et al., 2015). The use of such mechanisms could also raise environmental justice and other concerns that have not been fully explored in prior research.
Other policy instruments to support CDR could include direct government grants for research and development, tax credits similar to the existing 45Q program, and procurement and supply-chain standards that incorporate CDR (Friedman, 2019; Sivaram et al., 2020; Schenuit et al., 2021). One study has also recommended the adoption of policies tied to the “non-climate co-benefits” of CDR (Cox and Edwards, 2019). Further analysis and comparison of these and other policy options are needed. It will be particularly important to consider the social and distributional impacts of pursuing different policy options (Bellamy, 2018). In particular, consideration should be given to those who bear the risks and reap the benefits of ocean CDR technologies under different policies. The drivers of, and approaches to developing, robust and effective CDR policy also require further study.
Looking beyond government policy, ocean CDR research and deployment (if any) could be funded by the philanthropic community, or driven by the market. Market pull does not yet exist
in this space, except for a small number of niche approaches, such as that developed by Stripe Climate. The Stripe Climate model enables online businesses to direct a portion of their revenues to supporting the scale-up of CDR technologies.71 Notably, Stripe Climate does not put a price on CO2, or use removals to generate carbon offsets.72
There is the possibility that the private voluntary carbon market could grow to consider ocean CDR through, for example, the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets. The Taskforce was launched by the UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance and is sponsored by the Institute of International Finance. It has more than 250 member institutions, which represent buyers and sellers of carbon credits, standards setters, market infrastructure providers, and other interested bodies. Its goal is to grow voluntary carbon markets, including by identifying and addressing integrity and quality concerns.
Markets will be most helpful when one or more ocean CDR approaches reach a high level of technology readiness and scale. It is possible that Wright’s law could apply. Pioneered by Theodore Wright in 1936, Wright’s law has been and continues to be a framework for forecasting cost declines as a function of growth in production—for every cumulative doubling of units produced, costs will fall by a constant percentage. As costs decline, market interest in the direct purchase and operation of the solutions and/or purchase of carbon removal services using these solutions would grow, bolstered by financial incentives from governments.
2.4 ADDRESSING RESEARCH GAPS
Several key research gaps exist that are foundational to the forward movement and success of any ocean CDR approach. These research questions are described below, summarized in Table 2.5, and woven into the committee’s recommendations in Chapter 9.
Legal Research Gaps
There are several key gaps in the existing body of research on the legal and regulatory landscape for ocean CDR. First, while many prior studies have discussed the application of existing international law to ocean CDR, most have been largely descriptive. Some studies have identified unresolved questions and highlighted potential challenges associated with the application of existing international law to ocean CDR. However, there has been comparatively little normative research, exploring what a “model” international legal framework would look like. Such a framework could provide the basis for development of a new international agreement governing ocean CDR research. Achieving broad acceptance of such an agreement could prove difficult, however. Past efforts to develop international rules for ocean CDR and related research (e.g., under the CBD and London Convention and Protocol) have primarily yielded nonbinding resolutions and decisions. One exception is the 2013 amendment to the London Protocol, but that has yet to take effect, having been ratified by just six countries. Nevertheless, developing a model international legal framework could help to inform future discussions, including the ongoing negotiations surrounding the BBNJ Agreement. The model framework could also provide useful guidance to the research community and support development of a code of conduct for research (see Chapter 9).
Whereas the treatment of ocean CDR projects under international law has been well studied, comparatively little research has explored the application of domestic law to such projects. Research to date has focused on only a subset of ocean CDR techniques and principally examined the application of federal environmental law thereto. The studies have been largely descriptive and have not
71 See https://stripe.com/climate.
examined in detail whether existing federal law is sufficient or appropriate to regulate ocean CDR (though some studies have highlighted uncertainties or challenges associated with the application of existing federal law). There has been no comprehensive review of all state, territory, and local laws applicable to ocean CDR projects and limited analysis of the potential tribal rights implications of such projects. The liability of project developers for environmental and other harms has also received little attention. Further research into the existing domestic legal framework is needed to determine whether it is sufficient and appropriate to regulate ocean CDR. While some studies have highlighted uncertainties or challenges associated with the application of existing domestic law, none has fully evaluated the need for, or utility of adopting, a new legal framework specific to ocean CDR or analyzed what such a framework should look like.
Research Gaps in Social Dimensions
When it comes to social dimensions, there are applicable insights from adjacent domains, but there is very little empirical research directly on ocean CDR. As for what should be researched, most social dimensions can be judged research gaps, but it is possible to make general observations about how the research should be done, in terms of research that is interdisciplinary, inclusive, multiscalar, and cross-sectoral. First, understanding the social dimensions of ocean CDR will require research that is interdisciplinary from the project outset, meaning that people from various disciplines are shaping the research questions and approaches. Second, ocean CDR also needs a more diverse research community and would benefit from support for early-career and established researchers from diverse backgrounds. In 2017, Blacks and Hispanics comprised just 1.5 percent and 3 percent of the occupations of “Earth scientists, geologists, and oceanographers,” and the study Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031 points out that this lack of inclusion undermines the capacity of U.S. science to generate knowledge that is credible, relevant, and legitimate (NASEM, 2021b). Third, research should be multiscalar, in terms of understanding both site-specific considerations and national and international policies and how they shape each other; mixed qualitative and quantitative methods will be crucial for this.
While the limited amount of research on social dimensions means that most things are a research gap, we can specifically point to three important ways of approaching the needs. First, research on the social dimensions of ocean CDR would benefit from a cross-sectoral framework, meaning that ocean CDR should be considered in the context of food systems, energy systems and energy access, and so on. For example, how particular ocean CDR approaches would interact with local and global food systems is a research question that would benefit from social and biophysical scientists working together. An assessment of the relevant systems would be a logical first step. Second, another key area of research is understanding how different ocean CDR approaches would interact with the sustainable development goals. Third, it is also critical to understand how ocean CDR interacts with mitigation, adaptation, and terrestrial CDR, both biophysically and socially. A research program on the social dimensions of ocean CDR should include these three approaches.
Monitoring, Economics, and Policy Research Gaps
The research program should fund a transparent, publicly accessible system for monitoring impacts from projects. Research is also needed on how user communities view and use monitoring data and certification processes. This is important for designing robust certification schemes that are accessible and trusted by multiple user communities. Research should also be conducted on policy mechanisms and innovation pathways, including on the economics of scale-up. It is important to analyze not just what potential policy mechanisms exist, but also who is affected by different policies.
Research Agenda Costs
The research costs here are approximate and were compiled based on experiences of the committee and similar research agendas. They reflect what might be practically necessary for developing the required knowledge base to begin to scale up ocean CDR to climate-significant scales.
For example, the recent National Academies report on terrestrial CDR (NASEM, 2019) recommended $5 million per year for 10 years on social science research on cost-effective adaptative management of coastal blue carbon and the response of coastal land owners and managers to carbon removal and storage incentives, $1 million a year for 3 years for extension and outreach to forest landowners, $2 million a year for 3 years to study barriers to agricultural soil carbon adoption, $5 million a year for 10 years to study the social and environmental impacts of carbon mineralization, $1 million a year for 10 years on public engagement with geological sequestration, etc. The figures in this report are of similar scope, given a more compressed timescale. To further put this in context, the coastal carbon sequestration research agenda in the 2019 report recommended $1.16–$1.19 billion for research on coastal carbon sequestration, with the majority of that dedicated to an integrated network of coastal sites over 20 years; the social science component was $50 million (about 4 percent), and another $40 million was recommended for a publicly accessible data center. In this report, the recommended social science and governance research portion is about 5 percent of the total budget, similar to the blue carbon research recommendation in the 2019 report. It is also about 9 percent of the priority research items, recognizing that understanding the social feasibility and governance considerations is important for further investment in these approaches.
Another reference point is the National Academies report Reflecting Sunlight: Recommendations for Solar Geoengineering Research and Governance (NASEM, 2021c), which recommended spending $20 million to $40 million over 5 years (~20 percent of the total research budget) on research into “social dimensions,” including “public engagement, political and economic dynamics, governance research, ethics and philosophy.” This recommended spending on social science and governance activities reflects the understanding that addressing climate change with emerging technologies is a social and governance matter as much as a technical one.
TABLE 2.5 Research and Development Needs to Address Overarching Research Gaps
|No.||Recommended Research||Question(s) Answered||Estimated Research Budget ($M/yr)||Time Frame (years)|
|2.1||Model international governance framework for ocean CDR research||How can the existing international governance framework for ocean CDR research be improved? Is there an alternative framework(s) that could better facilitate needed ocean CDR research while ensuring that research is conducted in an open, transparent, responsible, and environmentally and socially acceptable manner?||2–3||2–4|
|2.2||Application of domestic laws to ocean CDR research||What are the full range of domestic laws (federal, state, local, and tribal) applicable to each ocean CDR approach?||1||1–2 initially (and ongoing as needed)|
|2.3||Assessment of need for domestic legal framework specific to ocean CDR||What is the need for and utility of establishing a domestic legal framework specific to ocean generally or individual ocean CDR approaches?||1||2–4|
|Development of domestic legal framework specific to ocean CDR||What does a “model” domestic legal framework for ocean CDR (either generally or by approach) look like? What should it require with respect to ex ante review of projects, stakeholder consultation, monitoring and verification, publication of data, etc.?|
|2.4||Mixed-methods, multisited research to understand community priorities and assessment of benefits and risks for ocean CDR as a strategy||What are the potential harms and benefits of ocean CDR approaches, for livelihoods and for communities?||5||4|
|2.5||Interactions and trade-offs between ocean CDR, terrestrial CDR, adaptation, and mitigation, including the potential of mitigation deterrence||What are said interactions and trade-offs?||2||4|
|2.6||Cross-sectoral research analyzing food system, energy, sustainable development goals, and other systems in their interaction with ocean CDR approaches||What implications do ocean CDR techniques have for food systems? For energy production and access? For achieving the sustainable development goals?||1||4|
|2.7||Capacity-building research fellowship for diverse early-career scholars in ocean CDR||How can we build interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral, diverse expertise in ocean CDR?||1.5||2|
|2.8||Transparent, publicly accessible system for monitoring impacts from projects||How do public data on monitoring project impacts influence public perception and awareness of ocean CDR projects? How do they influence scientific research?||0.25||4|
|2.9||Research on how user communities (companies buying and selling CDR, nongovernmental organizations, practitioners, policy makers) view and use monitoring data, including certification||What are the strengths and weaknesses of various certification approaches? What makes certification robust and trustworthy?||0.5||4|
|2.10||Analysis of policy mechanisms and innovation pathways, including on the economics of scale-up||What are policy options for scaling ocean CDR? How do different pathways and policies for scaling up ocean CDR affect both societies and the outcomes of the CDR?||1–2||2|
|2.11||Development of standardized environmental monitoring and carbon accounting methods for ocean CDR||0.2||3|
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