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Geological carbon sequestration: critical legal issues

Geological carbon sequestration remains an attractive climate change mitigation option. But there are uncertainties and complexities surrounding the legality of projects aiming to sequester carbon this way. This working paper reviews the legal issues concerning geological carbon sequestration in the offshore waters surrounding the United Kingdom.

Geological carbon sequestration aims to prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere by capturing CO2 at source. Unlike carbon sequestration by forests, where CO2 already in the atmosphere is taken up, geological sequestration is classed as an emission reduction at the source. From a legal perspective, different locations of the sea are subject to different prescriptions under international law, but it is individual nations who have the greatest amount of jurisdiction and control over waters closest to the shore. There two key legal questions in this regard. Is CO2 a waste, and hence, can we consider it as dumped? And what is the pathway of CO2 at the storage site? This paper finds that long term storage should be considered dumping, and that existing legal tools do not properly address the pathways involved in CO2 transport.

This working paper explores an area of research that has not been considered in detail to date. While the results are specific to the EU, the content is relevant globally. It is important reading for anyone interested in the frontiers of current carbon sinks research.