The ocean is the largest carbon sink on the planet and contains almost 50 times more carbon dioxide than is currently in the atmosphere. The ocean’s ability to remove and store CO2 can be enhanced through a suite of approaches known collectively as ocean carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Given the vast scale of the ocean and its natural role in the carbon cycle, governments, researchers, and entrepreneurs are recognizing its potential to remove legacy emissions and address the impacts of climate change.

While ocean CDR pathways could meaningfully contribute to CO2 drawdown and may even have significant non-climate benefits, it is a vast and complex system, and there are many unknowns about the ocean today. Specifically, ocean carbon removal faces four key challenges:

While there are uncertainties surrounding ocean carbon removal, the risks of not achieving climate targets are unequivocal. Therefore, it is important to improve society’s understanding of ocean CDR so that we can make better-informed decisions regarding the development of ocean carbon removal as a potential piece of our holistic approach to addressing climate change.

Carbon180 wrote and published Depending on the Ocean: Research and Policy Priorities for Responsible Ocean Carbon Removal to begin addressing these challenges and lowering uncertainties around ocean carbon removal. This white paper explores the benefits and risks of ocean carbon removal and illustrates two possible futures for the field, based on the steps we take today. It also offers specific recommendations for how policy can help lower existing uncertainties around ocean carbon removal today. By enabling timely research and development and creating a framework for responsible innovation and distribution of benefits, policy is a powerful lever for bringing more clarity to this fledgling industry.

Edited by Emily Reich. Cover image by Shane Stagner