S.C. Sea Grant Consortium

News Story

Law, Policy, and Science Come Together at First Blue Carbon Law Symposium

Jun 30, 2023

The first Sea Grant Blue Carbon Law Symposium convened around 140 participants in a hybrid event at the University of Georgia May 17­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­–18, 2023, to collectively build a whole-field understanding of the needs and opportunities to protect and enhance coastal blue carbon ecosystems in the United States. The symposium engaged experts of law, policy, science, and community leadership to share knowledge and propose strategies for coastal blue carbon through public-private partnerships.

A large group of diverse participants poses in front of Blue Carbon Law Symposium signage.

The Blue Carbon Law Symposium participants. Photo courtesy of Shannah Montgomery.

Blue carbon ecosystems are coastal and marine natural areas that capture and store atmospheric carbon dioxide into biomass and sediment. Currently defined coastal blue carbon systems are mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses. Many speakers at the symposium noted that blue carbon ecosystems are a critical part of the portfolio of climate solutions that provide other critical services such as storm protection, water quality, wildlife habitat, and economic opportunities.

While there have been several blue carbon meetings over the past decade, this event provided a new platform to connect across sectors. In her opening remarks, co-organizer Brita Jessen described the next two days as a “threshold event” focusing on the intersection of policy, community leadership, and conservation finance. Co-organizer Adam Orford noted the critical role that carbon plays for the planet and society, and how the symposium will help multiple disciplines “co-create” blue carbon law and policy.

Opening with an overview of climate law and carbon markets, the first day of the symposium explored legal and policy needs to advance blue carbon, and the relevance of private sector partnerships that can drive conservation goals. The evening closed with a joint reception with the Georgia Climate Conference, featuring a special address by Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, and an exhibit by Barbara Mann, an awardee of Georgia Sea Grant’s Artists, Writers and Scholars program whose artwork focuses on the marine carbon cycle.

Two Black women in printed dresses pose in front of the Symposium sign.

Photo courtesy of Shannah Montgomery.

Sarah Kapnick, chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), led the second day with a special address to highlight NOAA’s rapidly growing interest and research in the blue carbon space. This was followed by panels focused on the state of science, the critical need for intentional and equitable engagement with community stakeholders, the process to establish and validate blue carbon projects, and case studies both domestic and international. Panelists and attendees discussed surmountable challenges, including property transfer rights, uncertainties in measurement of carbon, certification and verification of carbon credits, and policy needs at state and federal levels.

Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, senior counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, delivered the keynote address describing how blue carbon links to the Biden administration’s climate commitments, including the America the Beautiful Initiative, the Natured-Based Solutions Roadmap, and the Ocean Climate Action Plan.

A young white woman in formal attire and glasses addresses the conference from a podium.

Photo courtesy of Shannah Montgomery.

The symposium conversation moved to a global scale in discussion of international blue carbon options, examples, and perspectives. In the afternoon’s conclusion, attendees focused on taking the next steps for new working groups, community leadership strategies, and the emerging field of marine and offshore carbon removal and partnerships between the research community and private financing.

Multiple hosts made the event a success, including the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, the UGA School of Law and Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the National Sea Grant Law Center, and S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. The first day of the symposium was held in partnership with the 2023 Georgia Climate Conference.

An older man sitting in the conference audience asks a question.

Photo courtesy of Shannah Montgomery.

The National Sea Grant Law Center provided primary funding with additional sponsorships provided by Wicker and Brammell, LLC., First Horizon Bank, and The Nature Conservancy.

With hopes to continue and expand the Southeast’s involvement with blue carbon, the Consortium and partners will explore next steps and opportunities to reconvene for future symposiums in the coming years.

Contact: Brita Jessen, Interdisciplinary Research and Partnerships lead, via email or by phone at (843) 953-6417. Learn more about the Blue Carbon Law Symposium.