Rainforests may be the lungs of the planet, and tree-planting one of the most popular activities for those wanting to offset emissions. But oceans are just as much at risk from human activity, and just as vital in protecting the environment: they currently absorb 90% of the excess heat caused by climate change and 23% of human-caused CO₂ emissions.
In a bid to promote the importance of oceans as part of climate change, and encourage more investment in marine projects, Salesforce has launched a Blue Carbon framework.
The High Quality Blue Carbon Market Principles and Guidance will be officially unveiled on 12 November at the COP27 climate conference. The framework is aimed at ensuring Blue Carbon credits are directed at the most valuable projects, which protect both ecosystems and communities.
The Principles and Guidance are designed to be used by all the different stakeholders in the marketplace - project developers, suppliers, investors and buyers - to help them decide where best to focus their resources.
Salesforce has worked in collaboration with a range of environmental organizations to develop the framework, including Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance and Friends of Ocean Action.
The global voluntary carbon market is expected to be worth upwards of $50 billion by 2030, with companies and individuals buying more credits to offset their greenhouse-gas emissions. While planting trees has been the de-facto option for these credits, marine-based efforts are lagging behind. Dr Whitney Johnston, Director of Ocean Sustainability at Salesforce, explains:
If you look at the data, and the development of climate conversations nationally and internationally, the ocean has historically been overlooked. The ocean was not a big part of the Green New Deal, for example. In the actual language that was written down on paper, the word ocean only showed up a couple of times. It was the same thing with the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change].
It has taken some time to elevate the role of the ocean, because the facts also show that the ocean has a critical role to play in this overall climate dialogue, in terms of the amount of heat and carbon that the ocean stores, and ocean-based solutions to climate change.
Over the last few years, dialogs have started to take place within the UNFCCC about oceans, and blue carbon is an emerging area too, she adds:
We're in a transitional phase where we need to keep elevating these issues. We can't overlook the ocean. We have some more progress to be made, but it's starting to change.
The Blue Carbon framework is intended to have positive outcomes for three interlinked areas: climate, people and biodiversity. The end game is to ensure that when capital is deployed for project development or the purchase of credits, it’s directed to high-quality projects that offer benefits to communities, enhance biodiverse ecosystems, and guarantee carbon durability and additionality, meaning it will be stored for a long period of time and the reductions achieved are additional to what would have occurred naturally.
From a practical standpoint, a buyer or investor can use the Principles and Guidance to make purchasing decisions and help identify the highest quality projects. For suppliers and project developers, it helps ensure they are deploying resources and creating products that align with those looking to purchase credits or invest in blue carbon.
The framework is focusing on projects around three specific areas of the ocean: seagrass, salt marshes and mangroves. The surface area of these three ecosystems may be small compared to the volume of trees, but seagrass, salt marshes and mangrove forests have huge untapped potential. Johnston says:
There are myriad ocean climate solutions, from offshore wind to ecosystem restoration and decarbonizing shipping. For the ecosystem restoration in particular, we often focus on those three ecosystems even though they're tiny little ribbons along the edges of the continents, because they're very intensive when they store carbon. They can store five to 10 times more carbon per acre than a tropical rainforest. They can offer really high RoI when you restore them.
Those ecosystems have a key role to play in biodiversity, offering a nursery for juvenile fish that then go out to sea and provide food for local communities, or populating a coral reef, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.
They also provide protection for coastal communities. Homes in communities that have a mangrove forest between them and the ocean, for example, are at much less risk of damage or being washed away during extreme weather events.
Johnston, who joined Salesforce in June 2021, previously worked on Capitol Hill, where she served as Ocean Policy Adviser to US Congressman Sam Farr. What drew her to join a technology vendor as a climate scientist and oceanographer, was the realization that to drive change, the science is important, the policy is important, but so is the business world:
The decisions businesses make, how they engage in the economy, how they engage in conversation with policy makers, with their stakeholders, customers or employees - all those things matter if we want to drive systems change.
That was why I then pursued a role like this one at Salesforce. I’m very lucky to have been matched with a company that has the same mindset and that I'm charged with leveraging the full power of Salesforce. My role in sustainability means that I partner with the ventures team or the philanthropy team, the product team or the government affairs team to activate all those levers and bring the full influence of Salesforce to advancing ocean health.
To coincide with COP27, Salesforce has also launched the Nature Accelerator, a $1 million philanthropic fund for climate mitigation projects.
These join several existing sustainability and climate change initiatives at Salesforce, including its emissions reduction strategy, restoring 100 million trees by 2030, its carbon credits marketplace, and products like Net Zero Cloud.