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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The global ocean is emerging as a promising target for carbon removal efforts, according to a new report.

Why it matters: It's now clear that removing and storing carbon dioxide, as well as reducing carbon emissions, will be necessary to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change.

  • But using the oceans as a carbon removal platform will require first answering major scientific, legal and social questions.

What's happening: Axios received early access to a new report from the Aspen Institute, with support from the ClimateWorks Foundation, that details a strategy for fairly exploring the ocean as a possible carbon removal site.

  • We know the ocean can play a role in carbon removal efforts because it is already doing so — about 40% of human-made CO2 emissions since the start of the industrial age have been absorbed by the ocean, slowing the pace at which warming would otherwise occur.
  • Since the ocean takes up more than two-thirds of the planet's surface, there is far more room to try carbon removal projects than on land.

How it works: One possibility involves harnessing nature by planting mangrove forests and kelp that can pull carbon out of the ocean and store it.

  • Another option would involve fertilizing the oceans with dissolved iron, which stimulates the growth of phytoplankton that can feed on CO2 in the water.

The catch: "The nature of both governance and science in the ocean presents a lot of challenges to that scale of development that would be needed," says Michael Conathan, senior policy fellow for ocean and climate with the Aspen Institute's Energy and Environment Program.

  • Nations claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZs) — the territory where they can control living and nonliving marine resources — only for the 230 miles beyond their coastlines. EEZs often overlap, and further on lies the open sea, which has even fuzzier international governance.
  • "How do you manage those transboundary effects, where action taken in one state ends up affecting others?" says Conathan.

What's next: The Aspen report suggests clarifying national and international governance structures that need to be established before ocean-based carbon removal can move beyond the experimental stage.

The bottom line: "We want to take advantage of what the ocean can offer on carbon removal, but we don't want to do it in a way that compromises ocean ecosystems or somehow makes the problem even worse," says Conathan.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated Jan 13, 2022 - Science

A vast new ocean sanctuary

Northern rockhopper penguins on Gough Island in the Tristan da Cunha chain. Photo: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The waters around the remote inhabited island of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic are set to become the world's fourth-largest marine sanctuary.

The big picture: Currently less than 3% of the world's ocean area is fully protected from human activity, compared to 13% of the world's much smaller land mass. With the oceans coming under increasing pressure from fishing, pollution and climate change, expanding true marine sanctuaries is more important than ever.

Updated Jan 15, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Earth's climate went off the rails in 2021, reports show

Temperature departures from average in degrees Celsius during 2021. (Berkeley Earth).

Global warming became local to a new and devastating extent in 2021, with the year ranking as the sixth-warmest on record, according to new, independent data from NASA, NOAA and Berkeley Earth.

Why it matters: Each year's data adds to the relentless long-term trend, which shows rapid warming due overwhelmingly to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions during the past several decades in particular.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine mandate after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks announced in a memo to employees Tuesday that it has dropped plans to implement a vaccine mandate for all U.S. workers, AP reported on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.