House Dems Introduce Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act

Yesterday at a virtual press conference, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) unveiled his Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act along with co-lead, House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chair Kathy Castor. In Grijalva’s own words, the bill aims to provide a roadmap for ocean and coastal climate resilience, and responsibly uses them to curb the pollution that is intensifying the climate crisis. 

The comprehensive, 300-page bill addresses a full range of ocean issues from sustainable fisheries management (and the promotion of U.S. seafood) to offshore wind as well as a ban on offshore drilling.

Why This Matters: The solutions to climate change are often framed in the context of renewable energy and land-based initiatives like agriculture. But the ocean is an often-overlooked piece of climate action, and this must change.

Aside from the fact that oceans contribute $1.5 trillion annually to the global economy and support the livelihood of 10-12 percent of the world’s population, they also have an immense ability to sequester carbon and fight climate change. It’s high time that everyone in the climate change community started talking about the ocean, its potential, and the need to protect it.

This is the bill we have been waiting for,” said former NOAA administrator (and #FriendOfThePlanet), Jane Lubchenco.

Fundamentally, healthy oceans cannot be secured without addressing climate change and climate change cannot be addressed without healthy ocean ecosystems–thus conservation and climate action must go hand in hand to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 and instill meaningful action on climate change.

The Specifics: Chairman Grijalva’s office outlined the specific aims of the act in a press statement yesterday:

  • Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The bill supports the transition to a clean energy economy by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with ocean sectors and increasing ocean-based renewable energy—helping us to move away from fossil fuels and protect the ocean and coastal habitats that are important to healthy fish, marine wildlife, and coastal economies.
  • Increases Carbon Storage in Blue Carbon Ecosystems. The bill recognizes the carbon storage potential and other co-benefits provided by “blue carbon” ecosystems like salt marshes, sea grasses, and mangroves. These ecosystems absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and safely store it at a rate of up to four times that of forests on land. They also protect coastal communities by limiting the impacts of coastal erosion, flooding, and storms—all while providing habitat for marine wildlife and fisheries.
  • Promotes Coastal Resiliency and Adaptation to protect our coasts and communities from the climate impacts we can’t avoid. It authorizes investment in coastal restoration and resilience that is a win-win-win for our economy, our frontline communities, and our environment.
  • Improves Ocean Protection by promoting and protecting healthy ocean systems and wildlife populations, which are better able to adapt to the effects of climate change. Marine protected areas, like our protected areas on land, are a key part of protecting biodiversity while tackling climate change – which is more critical than ever in the face of the biodiversity crisis.
  • Supports Climate-Ready Fisheries with the development and implementation of strategies to improve the management of fisheries in a changing climate and also helps to promote U.S. seafood sourced from environmentally and climate-friendly fisheries.
  • Tackles Ocean Health Challenges by addressing the ocean health challenges of ocean acidification and harmful algal blooms, both of which cause significant harm to the U.S. seafood, recreation, and tourism industries, as well as human communities and ocean wildlife and ecosystems.
  • Restores U.S. Leadership in International Ocean Governance by strengthening U.S. leadership in international ocean governance at a time when transboundary pressures on our ocean demands a coordinated response. These actions would both strengthen U.S. security and promote a resilient global ocean for the 21st century.

Sustainable Fisheries: The United States is a world leader in sustainable fisheries management but in order to feed a growing global population, fish stocks will have to be increasingly monitored and managed. This act would create a new program, that through a grant process would develop tools to help make existing management practices more adaptive to the impacts of climate change and encourage the adoption of these practices.

As Seafood Source explained,

The new bill will also address aquaculture with the establishment of a new “Ocean Aquaculture Research and Policy Program” that aims to “address opportunities, challenges, and innovation in restorative ocean aquaculture development, siting, and operations in [U.S.] coastal waters and [its] exclusive economic zone.” That program would prioritize restorative aquaculture,  and would include a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of aquaculture operations – both positive and negative – on the environment.

Protecting Nature: Aside from their inherent value, marine ecosystems are crucial for human life by proving food, protection from extreme weather, and through their potential for carbon sequestration–what’s known as “blue carbon.”

As The World Resources Institute explained, “blue carbon” ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass meadows and kelp forests are 10 times more effective at sequestering carbon dioxide on a per area basis per year than boreal, temperate or tropical forests, and about twice as effective at storing carbon in their soil and biomass.

This bill promotes the goal of protecting 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030 through more robust and targeted conservation efforts that help restore ecosystems. As National Geographic’s Enric Sala explained at the virtual press conference yesterday, “I’ve seen marine life recover spectacularly when we protect places in the ocean.”

And as Eric Schwaab, the senior vice president of  the Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans program said in a statement about the act, 

“Protecting 30% of the nation’s oceans is an ambitious and energizing goal. Bringing all communities with an interest in ocean health into the process of identifying and designating areas will cement the multi-faceted benefits protected areas can bring to enhancing biodiversity, protecting critical habitats and blue carbon reserves, and securing human wellness and livelihoods in the face of multiple stressors.”

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