Clear Blue: Adding Clear and Binding Language to the Paris Agreement to Protect Blue Carbon Solutions and Reverse Climate Change

Clear Blue: Adding Clear and Binding Language to the Paris Agreement to Protect Blue Carbon Solutions and Reverse Climate Change

Heidi E. Johnson

Though more than 50 percent of coastal wetlands have been lost worldwide over the past century, the Paris Agreement fails to require its Parties to protect nature-based solutions, such as blue carbon.[1] Blue carbon refers to ocean biomass that captures carbon dioxide—at twice the speed of terrestrial forests—and retains the gas for several hundred thousand years.[2] Yet international treaties, such as the Paris Agreement, fail to adequately protect blue carbon solutions.[3]

Pursuant to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Conference of the Parties (COP) is responsible for ensuring adequate protections for such solutions.[4] Parties to the Paris Agreement propose goals and commit to achieving them within a given timeframe.[5] COP then evaluates Parties’ commitments and progress to determine whether Parties achieved their goals.[6] When Parties lack significant progress, COP may revise the Paris Agreement to ensure that Parties will meet future goals.[7] Although some Parties recently expressly committed to protecting blue carbon solutions,[8] these promises come too little, too late.

The Conference of the Parties should revise the Paris Agreement to require and enforce natural solutions that protect blue carbon sinks. The proposed amendment should state that Parties must pursue mitigation efforts to protect blue carbon sinks, such as mangroves, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes. This framework should be added to Article 2 of the Paris Agreement because this Article provides for mandatory aims and solutions.[9] Such an amendment is feasible because, unlike previous treaties, the current Paris Agreement language supports a legally binding provision.[10] Such a provision is essential because adverse climate change effects are universal.[11] Blue carbon sinks are crucial to protecting our planet, and governments should not overlook these resources merely because they do not provide economic incentives.[12] Furthermore, when amending the Paris Agreement, the United States should propose using clear and concise language.[13]

This Note urges COP to revise the Paris Agreement to require enforceable natural solutions to protect blue carbon solutions. Part I provides a historical account of international climate change treaties and highlights the U.S.’ role within that context. Part II discusses the current international state of the climate crisis, noting the importance of implementing legal measures to protect blue carbon sinks. Part III proposes a legally binding framework that would amend the Paris Agreement to require enforceable blue carbon protections. Finally, Part IV suggests how the U.S. should use its influential role to encourage Parties to avoid side-stepping crucial issues through use of common language-based tactics.

[1]Half of all Wetlands Destroyed Since 1900, Report Says, Sci. X Network (Oct. 17, 2012), (reporting that half of all wetlands have been destroyed since 1900).

[2] Id.

[3] Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104 [hereinafter Paris Agreement].

[4] Daniel Bodansky et al., Int’l Climate Change L. 19 (2017); Conference of the Parties, UNFCCC, (last visited Apr. 8, 2022).

[5] Conference of the Parties, supra note 4.

[6] Bodansky, supra note 4, at 5.

[7] Id.

[8] See, e.g., First INDC, Costa Rica (Dec. 29, 2020), (committing to conserve and restore mangroves, seagrasses, and saltmarshes); First Nationally Determined Contribution, Republic of Cuba (2020–2030), (last visited Apr. 8, 2022) (promising to “end degradation of coastal areas and marine ecosystems, taking measures for its restoration and for the sustainable development of fishing practices, tourism and the adaptation to climate change.”).

[9] Paris Agreement, supra note 3, at art. 2.

[10] Id.; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, May 9, 1992, S. Treaty Doc No. 102-38, 1771 U.N.T.S. 107; Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 10, 1997, 2303 U.N.T.S. 162.

[11] See Science X Network (2012), supra note 1 (noting that wetlands cover about five million square miles of Earth’s surface and soak-up carbon dioxide, providing an estimated $23 billion worth of annual storm protection in the U.S. alone).

[12] Bodansky et al., supra note 4, at 5 (noting that the U.S. tends to favor economic-based policies).

[13] Susan Biniaz, Comma but Differentiated Responsibilities: Punctuation and 30 Other Ways Negotiators Have Resolved Issues in the International Climate Change Regime, 6 Mich. J. Env’t & Admin. L. 37 (2016) (describing negotiators’ tactics, such as using “constructive ambiguity” to “deliberately draft a formulation that admits of two different interpretations.”).

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