UN Report Says Countries Must Implement Ocean-Based Solutions to Fight Climate Change

Source: The United Nations

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A new report released last week by the United Nations found that the countries of the world aren’t taking ocean health as seriously as they should in the fight against climate change. The oceans provide a key function in absorbing carbon and heat from the atmosphere. Without efforts to preserve and restore ocean ecosystems, cut back shipping emissions, and end destructive fishing practices, the ocean will store less carbon each year. The most urgent steps countries can take, however, are to rapidly cut back on carbon emissions and invest in climate adaptation.

Why This Matters: The ocean has been a critical buffer against climate change, absorbing carbon and supporting ecosystems that prevent flooding, sustain communities, and more. Historically, the oceans have absorbed 90% of the heat generated by GHG emissions and 30% of carbon emissions, but experts say we’ve reached a tipping point. 99% of coral reefs could be destroyed if the world fails to fulfill the Paris agreement. The Arctic, where glaciers are melting 31% faster than 15 years ago, could be past the point of no return. Still, this report emphasizes that through strategic policy and ocean management, the world could save the ocean and itself.

Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind

“For too long the ocean has been out of sight, out of mind, and largely absent from global policy conversations on climate change. But the tide is turning. We have the knowledge, policy tools, and incentives required, and now is the time to act together,” wrote Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, Chair of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. Experts say now is the time for a big push for ocean management because countries are increasing ambition in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

To fully utilize the ocean’s potential, the world must drastically cut emissions and make significant investments in climate adaptation. Dr. Jane Lubchenko, the Expert Group Co-Chair of the High-Level Panel for a sustainable ocean economy, said that mitigation actions could provide 20% of the emissions reduction needed to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. Key mitigation strategies include: 

  • Investing in ocean-based renewable energy 
  • Shifting transport including freight and passenger shipping away from fossil fuels.
  • Protecting and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems that sequester carbon, including mangrove forests and seagrasses. 
  • Moving human consumption away from emissions-intensive land-based protein sources like beef, towards sustainable ocean-based protein and other sources of nutrition.

The report emphasizes that to make these changes, countries will have to shift their dialogue to include ocean-related issues and integrate ocean-based solutions into their NDCs.

In the United States, climate adaptation has been considered a blind spot in President Biden’s climate agenda. But that may change soon. Stakeholders across all sectors are urging the Biden administration to ensure 30% of all lands and waters are protected by 2030. And this past week, federal lawmakers introduced a bill to protect the nation’s natural resources against climate disasters. As the nation makes big investments in offshore wind and clean energy, further ocean-based policy may be just around the bend. But to do so, the Biden administration will have to find more space in its climate dialogue for our largest carbon sinks.

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