Carbon to Sea Initiative

Last week at COP28, Carbon to Sea hosted a session to highlight US leadership in ocean-based carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Speakers shared perspectives from their perches in government, research, philanthropy, and the private sector to call for greater attention to and research investment in this cutting-edge field. 

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened the session by emphasizing the threat climate change poses to global peace and security, which is why carbon removal efforts are so important as a complement to drastic emissions reductions. Oceans are often viewed as part of the problem — for example, rising sea levels lead to flooding and hotter ocean temperatures lead to more severe storms. But, as the world’s largest carbon sink, the ocean can actually be an important part of our climate solution. Senator Cardin highlighted areas that Congress is focusing on through upcoming climate legislation and investment, including research and development of ocean-based CDR. 

Carbon to Sea’s Diane Hoskins next introduced a panel with Senator Cardin and four other speakers to zoom-in on emerging methods of ocean-based CDR, and where more exploration, funding, and legislative support is needed. 

Frances Wang of the Quadrature Climate Foundation shared a staggering statistic that, from 2010 to 2020, only 2% of philanthropic dollars for marine issues went towards climate and energy activities. While significant public investment will be needed to unlock the full scale of the ocean’s CDR potential, Wang said, philanthropies can play an important role in de-risking early-stage R&D — to generate the data needed to land long-term public and private funding.

Dr. Gabby Kitch, who leads the ocean CDR program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), echoed the importance of public investment and highlighted the $14 million earmarked for ocean CDR by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Dr. Kitsch also raised the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) as an example of successful inter-agency and cross-sectoral partnership that has already directed $24.3 million in funding to 17 projects on ocean-based CDR solutions like ocean alkalinity enhancement. 

Looking towards the future of CDR programs, Frances Simpson-Allen from Ebb Carbon noted that while the IRA kickstarted important  investments, more work is needed to enable ocean-based CDR approaches to tap into sustained funding. Simpson-Allen also called attention to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carbon Negative Shot Pilots, as well as a sea change in the private sector’s view of the field — with McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group highlighting the economic promise of carbon removal science and tech. 

Even with the announcement of an agreement to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels coming out of this year’s COP, CDR strategies will be a crucial part of a comprehensive plan to fight the climate crisis. As governments, companies, and philanthropies around the world make investments in climate solutions over the coming years, ocean-based CDR should be top of mind. We’re thankful to the speakers and attendees from our COP28 session for helping elevate the importance of ocean-based CDR as potentially one of the most cost-effective, high impact CDR strategies our planet has.