The Aspen Institute Releases New Report on a Potential Code of Conduct for Carbon Dioxide Removal in the Global Ocean

December 8, 2021

The report emphasizes the need for guidelines that center equity, international involvement in governance, and removal technique efficacy in any ocean-based carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies.

Contact: Clarke Williams

Washington, DC, December 8, 2021— Today, the Aspen Institute released a new report, “Guidance for Ocean-Based Carbon Dioxide Removal: A Pathway to Developing A Code of Conduct”, detailing potential guidelines for exploring what governance structures, scientific research, and community engagement should look like as practitioners explore the possibility of removing carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere by storing it in the ocean as a means of addressing climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Working Group I Report clarified the necessity of strong, rapid, and sustained carbon dioxide emissions reductions and removal to align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C global mean surface temperature warming threshold. And while ocean-based CDR techniques are in a fairly nascent stage of development, they could play a vital role, with some also potentially providing significant benefits to both the ocean and ocean communities– if practitioners and other stakeholders can provide reassurances that they will not cause negative, possibly irreparable, consequences for ecosystems and communities around the world. To achieve this goal, all stakeholders must be prepared to work collaboratively to build a guide for ocean-based CDR practitioners that considers carbon removal efficacy and durability, and the positive and negative implications of ocean-based CDR activities, including the risks of inaction. “Guidance for Ocean-Based Carbon Dioxide Removal: A Pathway to Developing a Code of Conduct” is the initial step in this process.

Authored by the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program, the report is the result of a series of roundtables hosted by the Aspen Institute that convened diverse stakeholders from around the world. These experts provided input on the need for an equitable, comprehensive, and science-based Code of Conduct for ocean-based CDR research and technology development. Incorporating the perspectives of natural and social scientists, policymakers, business and finance leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and philanthropic leaders, the Aspen Institute captured major themes and ideas that could proactively incorporate the global ocean as a potential solution to climate change. Some of those themes and ideas include:

  • Equity and knowledge-sharing: The Code of Conduct must address the rights and title of coastal peoples, traditional practices and responsibility for marine systems while also centering the diversity of understanding, experience, norms and values across different coastal ecosystems and geographies.
  • Balancing costs and benefits: The Code of Conduct must balance the potential costs and benefits of ocean-based carbon dioxide removal techniques with the competing imperatives of not causing further harm to marine ecosystems or coastal communities and taking urgent climate action.
  • Governance: National and international governance for a Code of Conduct must be created with all affected communities and stakeholders playing a role in determining how to proceed with responsible research and appropriate risk analyses.

“The global ocean is often seen as a victim of climate change and rising temperatures, but we need to start looking at it as a potential climate hero,” said Michael Conathan, Senior Policy Fellow for Ocean and Climate for the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program. “Global governance structures must find ways to determine how and whether ocean-based carbon dioxide removal techniques can contribute to climate solutions without causing further harm to marine ecosystems or coastal populations, particularly in the Global South, developing nations, and marginalized communities. Finding these answers must be a top priority as the world strives to repair historic and ongoing damage and maintain a livable climate.”

The report from the Aspen Institute emphasizes not only the importance of equity and international governance, but also highlights the need for continued, extensive research on ocean-based CDR before any new technologies are deployed. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) new report, “A Research Strategy for Ocean-Based Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration” emphasizes this as well, noting that “society and policymakers lack sufficient knowledge to fully evaluate ocean CDR outcomes and weigh the trade-offs with other climate response approaches.”

“After the release of the NASEM report earlier today, we are excited to see such a rigorous look at ocean-based carbon dioxide removal research,” said Greg Gershuny, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program. “We need to explore all viable, creative climate solutions, but we also need to ensure there are good governance and environmental justice considerations rooted in the technologies we develop. The guide we created in partnership with our roundtable discussion group is one of many first steps to doing this, as is the NASEM report. With both pieces of research on hand for ocean-based CDR practitioners, we can continue to engage with and utilize the power of the entire global community to address climate change.”


About Aspen Institute

Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

The Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program (EEP) explores significant challenges with diverse thinkers and doers to make a more prosperous, equitable, and sustainable society for all. We address critical energy, environmental, and climate change issues through non-partisan, non-ideological convening, with the specific intent of bringing together diverse stakeholders to improve the process and progress of policy-level dialogue. This enables EEP to sit at a critical intersection in the conversation and bring together diverse groups of expert stakeholders. To learn more visit or follow @AIEnvironment.

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