Managing Large Carbon Sinks

Decarbonization Avenue : Managing Large Carbon Sinks

About 38000 billion tons of CO2 are stored in the oceans, and they sequester an additional 2 billion tons of atmospheric CO2 annually. Permafrost contains over 1400 billion tons of CO2. Grasslands capture about 3 billion tons of CO2 per year. Wetlands store over 13 billions of CO2 in the US alone.

In addition to the more apparent carbon sinks like forests, these represent very large natural carbon sinks. These sinks co-exist symbiotically with the rest of their ecosystem entities. For instance, cattle and grasslands form a synergistic partnership - while cattle consuming the grass could emit some of the carbon back into the atmosphere (through enteric fermentation and also from the composting or biomethanation of their waste), the cattle waste (urine and dung) also serve as valuable nutrients for the grasslands to grow.

While they capture and store CO2, they are potential emitters too. For instance, natural wetlands already emit about 30% of all methane emissions globally. With global warming, experts warn that permafrost could thaw and emit massive amounts of carbon stored in them. Climate records show that as temperatures climb, oceans can turn from CO2 sinks to CO2 emission sources.

Managing these natural carbon sinks with care is critical to ensure that they continue to sequester equal or even higher amounts of CO2 every year, and more important, to ensure that they do not emit the CO2 stored in them back into the atmosphere. Decarbonization efforts should be more nuanced and should be aimed at maintaining a balance between CO2 capture and emissions by these ecosystems.

The importance of these carbon sinks for a healthy global climate have given rise to  organizations and associations. Prominent ones among them are the International Permafrost Association and Wetlands International. 

For the 2020-2030 period, innovations in this domain will be in monitoring these sinks through use of digital tools, deep ocean vehicles, LiDAR etc., capacity building for key stakeholders to manage these ecosystems, and multi-stakeholder collaboration ensure preservation.

Industries impacted

  • Agriculture & farming
  • Chemicals & petrochemicals
  • Construction & real estate
  • Fertilizers
  • Food & beverages
  • Mining & metals
  • Oil & gas
  • Power
  • Road transport
  • Textile & apparel

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Themes & Topics

  • Oceans

    • Ocean surface

    • Ocean depths

  • Permafrost

  • Wetlands

    • Coastal wetlands

    • Arctic wetlands

    • Peatlands

    • Marshes

    • Swamps

    • Bogs

    • Fens

  • Grasslands

    • Enhancing on-farm biodiversity

    • Sustainable choices for pasture

    • Sustainable grazing practices











  • Actions

    • Restoration

    • Monitoring & analytics

    • Stakeholder coordination & engagement for action

  • Use of IT and IoT

  • Capacity building

  • Collaboration

    • International collaboration

    • National collaboration

    • Collaboration between government and academia / university research

    • Organizations

  • Policies

  • Use of IT & digital tools

  • Financing

  • Regional activities

    • Asia

    • Europe

    • North America

    • South America

    • Middle East & Africa

    • Oceania

    • Arctic

    • Antarctica