September 13, 2021

As the United States and China prepare for the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland, this November, U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry and his team should put “blue carbon”—carbon captured and stored by coastal and marine ecosystems—on the agenda for the first time. Blue carbon is a strategic global climate asset, but disruptions to it are currently not even systematically measured, much less reported, by leading disruptor China or any other nation. Kerry can publicly highlight the issue and begin making the case for factoring seabed and marine ecosystem disruption into the global climate policy equation.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the world’s surface, but less than 10 percent of the seafloor has been mapped using modern sonar, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wide-ranging salt marshes, mangroves, seagrass beds, and the ultra-deep abyssal seabed may be out of sight and mind for most people, but they are very much alive and keeping us all well—particularly by absorbing large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and balancing critical ecological and climate systems. Disrupting such millennia-old processes before we even partially understand them risks grave and potentially irreversible harms.

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Andrew S. Erickson is a professor of strategy in the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute and a visiting scholar in full-time residence at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.

Photo Credit: By UK Government -, OGL 3,