Carbon Sequestration in a Technological Sense is a Huge Conversation, But Nature-Based Solutions May Offer the Same Carbon Cuts Alongside Biodiversity Booms

Our planet has natural cycles that can help regulate temperature by storing carbon; nature-based solutions offer an opportunity to engage in the restoration and creation of biological carbon sinks that have associated ecological benefits
August 17, 2022

Carbon sequestration isn’t new; our ecosystem has been doing it for eons

Carbon dioxide from the earth's atmosphere can be captured, removed, and stored through a process called carbon sequestration. It is acknowledged as a crucial technique for eliminating carbon from the world’s atmosphere. Recently, ZCA covered how the UK is taking technological steps for carbon sequestration. But there are two other natural ways that carbon can be stored: biologically or geologically. Additionally, even while it is promoted artificially through various biological and geological techniques, it also naturally occurs on a massive scale in the environment.[i] The process of biological carbon sequestration involves the storage of carbon in the environment. 'Carbon sinks,' such as forests, grasslands, soil, oceans, and other water bodies, are included in this. This type of sequestration is often referred to as "indirect" or "passive."[ii] Coupled with reductions in the capacity of natural carbon sinks and an increase in anthropogenic emissions, there is capacity within the field to develop nature-based solutions that allow our natural world to meet its emissions-busting potential.

Biological carbon sinks

Forests and green spaces

  • An estimated 25% of the world’s carbon emissions are sequestered in greenspaces like forests, grasslands and rangelands.
  • Trees typically store twice as much carbon as they emit at a far higher rate than other vegetation.

  • For so-called "green carbon" sinks to absorb CO2 properly, these natural ecosystems must be protected. The main threat to this natural process is deforestation, followed by intensive agriculture and development. [iii]

Source: Unsplash


  • Only 42% of the carbon in a forest is found in the plant material that grows above ground. The roots, soil organisms, and partially degraded soil debris make up the remaining portion.
  • The carbon in the plant's roots is left behind after it dies, frequently out of the reach of most soil microbes that would otherwise break down the organic matter.

  • Particles made of highly degraded carbon that are small enough to chemically attach to soil clay can remain trapped below for hundreds or even thousands of years. [iv]

Source: Unsplash


  • Through plant photosynthesis and serving as runoff sediment traps, wetlands all around the world sequester carbon from the atmosphere. In addition to the living vegetation, carbon is also found in the litter, peat, organic soils, and sediments that have built up over thousands of years in some cases. [v]
  • Wetlands are the most effective carbon sinks on the planet. Peatlands store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined.[vi]
  • According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, terrestrial wetlands on the continental U.S. contain 13.5 billion metric tonnes of carbon, the majority of which is buried beneath soils deeper than 30 cm. Freshwater inland wetlands store roughly ten times more carbon than tidal coastal wetlands, in part because of their large area. According to the study, peatlands in the East and Upper Midwest's wooded regions store the most carbon, making up roughly half of all wetland carbon in the country. [vii]  

Source: USGS

Projects to restore and develop natural carbon sinks are accessible and multifunctional

Ecosia is a search engine launched in 2009, they have a simple model wherein the ad revenue profit generated by searches is distributed to forest landscape restoration projects. Since 2009 they have gathered over 20 million users, invested over €36,030,634 and planted over 150,000,000 trees across more than 13,000 sites.[viii] Thirty universities across the world have switched their default search engine to Ecosia, resulting in 211,000 trees being financed as a result.[ix] But it’s not just searches that have helped Ecosia plant trees; in April of 2022, they teamed up with Niantic, the software development company behind Pokémon Go, to plant one tree for every 5km walked by users during community events.[x]

Before and after an Ecosia-funded restoration project

Source: Ecosia

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust is a UK-based charity that has realigned part of Somerset's north coast to create salt marshes.[xi] A 4-year study to assess the carbon retention of the marshes found that 67,000 tonnes of carbon were stored over the period, which is equivalent to 32,900 UK cars being taken off the road for one year.[xii] This was a somewhat unexpected benefit of a project that was founded with the intention of improving biodiversity and extreme weather resilience in the area and demonstrates a two-way street from Marcus Aurelius’ famous adage “what injures the hive injures the bee” in this case, what is good for the bee has been good for the hive.[xiii] The project and WWT’s wider goals demonstrate a place for businesses to be involved in these nature-based solutions; HSBC has been involved with WWT with their generations project, which allows children and young people to experience wetlands and learn about their many benefits.[xiv] ZCA is in no way affiliated with the aforementioned businesses, and a discussion of their current projects is not an endorsement.

So with technological carbon sequestration on the horizon but not yet a fully established mechanism for corporate emission’s abatement, nature-based solutions and the possibility for business investment in them offer up an opportunity to store carbon in a natural and eons-old structure that kept our world in balance long before we began to tip the scales.

[i] National Grid- What is carbon sequestration?

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Green Carbon Part 1: The role of natural forests in carbon storage

[iv] BBC Science focus- How does soil store carbon?

[v] Minnesota board of water and soil resources- Carbon Sequestration in Wetlands

[vi] WWT- Why Wetlands?

[vii] USGCRP- Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report

[viii] Ecosia- Plant trees while you search the web

[ix] Ecosia- Join the Ecosia on Campus movement!

[x] Ecosia- Plant trees when you play on Niantic’s Community Day

[xi] WWT- Steart Marshes: about

[xii] WWT- New study shows allowing the sea back in could help UK meet climate goals

[xiii] Ibid

[xiv] WWT- Inspiring future generations to care for wetlands

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Oscar Pusey
Research Analyst

Oscar is a recent graduate with a background in earth science. He is currently studying an MSc focussing on disaster responses, emergency planning and community resilience. His postgraduate research project will assess the link between climate crisis risk perception and attitudes to green energy projects. “Adapting to the climate crisis through the pursuit of net zero requires community engagement and understanding. Zero Carbon Academy’s goals closely align with this approach and I’m excited to have the opportunity to research and communicate a variety of topics relating to our environment and sustainability”.

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