U.K. Says Its Seabed Is More Valuable for Environment Than Oil

The U.K.’s seabed is more valuable as a carbon sink absorbing pollution from industry than as a source of oil and natural gas, official estimates from the government’s Office for Nationals Statistics show.

The findings put the value of Britain’s marine “natural capital assets” at 211 billion pounds ($300 billion) and represent an emerging area of research where nations attempt to put a value on the environment.

The estimates also probe the benefit the U.K. gets from “blue carbon,” or the amount of greenhouse gases captured by the ocean and coastal ecosystems. It’s part of a global effort to use financial tools to understand the costs of using fossil fuels, which advocates of the methods say will help focus policy makers on reducing harmful emissions.

Using conservative estimates, the ONS said sea-grasses, muds, sands and saltmarshes already capture at least 10.5 million tones of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, with a value of 57.5 billion pounds. By comparison, woodlands in the U.K. captured carbon worth about 55 billion pounds.

Because blue carbon data is still so uncertain, the ONS used the lowest range figure to estimate the value. The real value could be six times higher, with the seabed storing the equivalent of more than 60 million tons a year.

U.K. Says Its Seabed Is More Valuable for Environment Than Oil

That value is also expected to grow in coming years, since the U.K. government has set out plans to artificially remove pollution from industry and pump it under the seabed to help reach a goal of generating net-zero emissions by 2050.

The value the sea generates in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere is higher than what’s earned from producing oil and natural gas or from fishing, according to the ONS data. It trails only the income generated from having beaches as an amenity for recreation, which underpins the fortunes of dozens of towns near the sea.

Renewables are catching up, since more wind farms are being installed offshore. The value of marine renewable energy production grew by 37 times, in the decade since 2008, when the offshore wind industry barely existed, the ONS said.

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