Journal Article

Ocean Carbon Sinks and International Climate Policy

Terrestrial vegetation sinks have entered the Kyoto Protocol as offsets for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, but ocean sinks have escaped attention. Ocean sinks are as unexplored and uncertain as were the terrestrial sinks at the time of negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol. It is not unlikely that certain countries will advocate the inclusion of ocean carbon sinks to reduce their emission reduction obligations in post-2012 negotiations. We use a simple model of the international market for carbon dioxide emissions to evaluate who would gain or loose from allowing for ocean carbon sinks. Our analysis is restricted to information on anthropogenic carbon sequestration within the exclusive economic zone of a country. We use information on the actual carbon flux and derive the human-induced uptake for the period from 1990 onwards. Like the carbon sequestration of business as usual forest management activities, natural ocean carbon sequestration applies at zero costs. The total amount of anthropogenic ocean carbon sequestration is large, also in the exclusive economic zones. As a consequence, it substantially alters the costs of emission reduction for most countries. Countries such as Australia, Denmark, France, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and Portugal would gain substantially, and a large number of countries would benefit too. Current net exporters of carbon permits, particularly Russia, would gain less and oppose the inclusion of ocean carbon sinks.


Richard S.J. Tol
Patick Wetzel


Publication Date
JEL Classification
Q54, Q58