November 5, 2021

Duke Research Brings Far-Off Carbon Offset Closer to Home

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Duke University’s continued path to net carbon neutrality by 2024 now includes a Duke research-driven investment in helping preserve coastal habitats more than 4,000 miles from Durham, on the western coast of Africa, reports Duke Today.

The university has invested in the protection of carbon-trapping ocean mangroves – wetland shrubs and trees – along the coast of Guinea-Bissau, by supporting an “avoided deforestation” project implemented by the country’s Institute for Biodiversity and Protected Areas (IBAP) with local communities.

A 2011 Nicholas Institute report, “Green Payments for Blue Carbon,” helped establish a market for carbon offsets from coastal habitats. Lead author Brian Murray, now interim director of the newly merged Nicholas Institute and Duke University Energy Initiative, had been working on the carbon market for preserving terrestrial forests when he learned that the carbon-rich peat soil in coastal wetlands holds more carbon than forests on land.

“There’s more carbon per hectare, so you get a bigger bang for the buck,” Murray said. 

John Virdin, director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute, tipped off the university about the Guinea-Bissau project, which he worked on while with the World Bank before coming to Duke. Virdin also co-authored a 2020 report assessing the feasibility of creating carbon offsets to protect mangroves elsewhere in western Africa.