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When it comes to combating climate change, the ocean is one of our greatest resources. The ocean is a significant natural carbon sink, absorbing approximately 30% of CO2 emissions that are released into the atmosphere. With the increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, however, the ocean has been working overtime to absorb the excess CO2—with devastating impacts to marine ecosystems from ocean acidification. 

Novel marine carbon dioxide removal (mCDR) technologies therefore have an important role to play in leveraging the ocean’s natural CO2 sequestration capabilities to safely and effectively reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, while also helping the ocean to recover and restore the damages experienced from climate change.  

Marine CDR technologies are still in their early stages and more research is needed to fully understand the full potential—and potential impacts—from these technologies before they can be deployed at scale. In fact, as I outlined in a previous blog, in many instances we are seeing start-ups leading the way in advancing mCDR projects and gathering important field data, while scientific research follows. This urgency-driven role reversal further underscores the need for dedicated research to understand the full range of impacts from mCDR technologies.

To help address this research need, the National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a request for information (RFI) in February to gather feedback on what it calls the “Marine CDR Plan” to advance critical mCDR research. These efforts include:

  1. Establishing a comprehensive Federal program for mCDR research;
  2. Clarifying permitting, regulatory, and other standards and policies, as well as establishing  guidelines for mCDR research; and
  3. Launching a Marine CDR Initiative to foster public-private partnerships, enhance interagency cooperation, and raise public awareness and engagement.

Following the NSF’s announcement, I had the pleasure of collaborating with Climate Vault’s Tech Chamber of subject matter experts to compose Climate Vault’s feedback to the RFI.  Our comments place an emphasis on collaboration, transparency, credibility, and verification—cornerstones of our operational ethos. 

Below, I’ve summarized some of the key recommendations we provided to help guide this crucial initiative. Or if you feel like settling in for a longer read, I welcome you to check out the full response here.

Climate Vault’s Three Key Recommendations

#1 – Engage with the International Scientific Community

The global climate crisis demands urgent and coordinated action, yet there remains significant work to be done to move the mCDR space forward. This is why we encourage prioritizing engagement with key organizations and institutions that are already conducting valuable mCDR research and catalyzing innovation, such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Ocean Visions, among others. By leveraging the expertise and ongoing efforts of these organizations, we can collectively accelerate the development of effective mCDR solutions.

#2 – Establish Standards for Research Practices

To support safety, effectiveness, accountability, and collaboration across all research activities, standards should be developed to guide collective research practices under the mCDR Plan. Specifically, these standards should: 

  • Seek to identify and mitigate potential ecological and socioeconomic risks associated with mCDR activities and field experiments;
  • Include regular, independent assessments of program performance to maintain accountability without placing unnecessary burdens on research efforts and hampering progress;
  • Promote the standardization and sharing of data to foster transparency and collaboration;
  • Build in flexibility so that research needs and approaches can be adjusted based on new scientific evidence, as it becomes available; and
  • Clarify the duration of carbon sequestration (e.g., 100 years) that will be deemed acceptable for mCDR research. 

#3 – Prioritize Critical Needs and Common Hurdles

Based on Climate Vault’s research, engagement with the CDR community, and learnings from our RFP process for innovative CDR projects, we suggest prioritizing research efforts in several critical areas to advance mCDR initiatives and scale impactful solutions:

  • Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV): When it comes to MRV, there’s a lot to unpack. Developing MRV standards and regulations is crucial to building confidence in mCDR solutions; however, the ocean is vast and complex, which makes ocean modeling a uniquely challenging endeavor. We see the following items as critical to advancing MRV:  
  • Determining which mCDR MRV approach(es) will be required or deemed acceptable under the Marine CDR Plan;
  • Clarifying the requirements for demonstrating carbon sequestration;
  • Confirming whether research can take place within the economic exclusion zone (EEZ), and if so, whether the government will indemnify federally-funded project developers and research initiatives taking place within the EEZ; and
  • Developing a framework for identifying optimal test sites. 

It will be important for the government to clearly outline its requirements (or range of acceptable approaches) under the Marine CDR Plan, and it could even consider hosting community workshops to ensure understanding and compliance among relevant stakeholders. 

  • Environmental, Ecological and Community Impacts: We need comprehensive research into the effects of mCDR projects on ocean chemistry, local ecosystems, and shoreline communities. Comprehensive research into upstream and downstream effects of mCDR projects will be essential to addressing stakeholder concerns and informing the development of thoughtful, well-managed mCDR initiatives. We believe taking this balanced approach will help avoid causing undue harm down the road while sequestering carbon. 
  • Permitting: Navigating the complex and fragmented permitting system is a significant challenge for mCDR project developers. The Marine CDR Plan should provide clarity by identifying the types of permits required for different mCDR projects, outlining the processes and requirements for obtaining the permits, and working with regulators to solve key information gaps. Efforts like this will facilitate compliance and expedite the implementation of mCDR projects.
  • Development of advanced ocean systems modeling tools: Supporting research in MRV, environmental impacts, and permitting can be enhanced through the development of advanced ocean systems modeling tools. These tools can provide valuable insights into ocean system interactions, help to establish baselines for MRV activities, aid in identifying optimal site locations for project implementation, and could even predict potential outcomes of mCDR approaches. We believe there is a major opportunity to bolster research efforts and accelerate progress in the mCDR field by supporting the development and implementation of these modeling tools.

Looking Ahead

Comments for the NSF’s Marine CDR Plan were accepted through April 23, 2024, and we’re all eagerly awaiting the final plan. At Climate Vault, we’re committed to supporting and scaling the most promising and credible mCDR technologies through our annual RFP program, and we’re excited to see how the Marine CDR Plan unfolds. There is still much work to be done in the mCDR space and I believe that the Marine CDR Plan is an important and exciting step forward in supporting and scaling these promising mCDR technologies. We’ll keep you updated as we continue to monitor this important federal initiative.

To learn more about how you can verifiably knock out your carbon footprint by leveraging immediate reductions into long-term removals with Climate Vault, reach out to our team. We’re here to help you meet your sustainability goals and eliminate your carbon with our first-of-its-kind integrated measurement, reduction + removal program.

This post was guest-written by Brynn Esterly, Climate Vault’s CDR Projects Manager. Connect with Brynn on LinkedIn here

About Brynn Esterly

Brynn Esterly is a climate and sustainability professional with 10+ years of experience within the financial services industry. In her current role as Climate Vault’s CDR Projects Manager she is responsible for leading the annual RFP process for innovative CDR solutions. Her expertise spans environmental markets, product management, investor relations and corporate communications. She received a Masters in Sustainability Management from Columbia University. Connect with Brynn on LinkedIn here