WRI Gives Countries a Step-by-Step Guide to Ocean-Based Climate Action

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A new paper released by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in collaboration with seven other environmental organizations outlines the ways that the ocean, often thought of as a victim of climate change, can be utilized to best combat global rising temperatures. Researchers identified four main sectors with high potential for the mitigation of carbon emissions as well as other economic and environmental benefits: marine conservation, oceanic and coastal fisheries, marine transport, and ocean-based renewable energy.

Why This Matters: We’ve written a lot about how the sea level is rising, and the ocean is warming, fueling stronger storm systems, and declines in biodiversity. WRI’s comprehensive guidance on how the ocean can still be a major player against climate change offers a breath of fresh air.

  • More than 600 million people – about 37% of the world’s population – live in coastal areas less than 10 meters above sea level and are at increased risk of flooding as sea levels continue to rise.

The paper offers a revolutionary roadmap for coastal countries to meet the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement while also stimulation economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four Big Things

First, the paper found that ocean ecosystems like mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses, which can sequester more than double the carbon of terrestrial forests, are globally under-protected.

  • 151 countries contain “blue carbon” ecosystems, and protecting these ocean habitats will not only sequester atmospheric carbon but also protect fish and wildlife relied on for food and trade.

Second, oceanic and coastal fisheries have great potential for improved efficiency standards but fuel emissions from the global fishing industry have been left out of global greenhouse gas assessments.

  • Improving the measurement of these emissions, incentivizing energy-efficient fishing vessel and gear improvements, and limiting catches to sustainable levels can decrease the carbon footprint of the fishing industry, while also ensuring its long-term health.

Third, increasing ocean-based renewable energy to meet 2030 and 2050 goals could remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to total Russia’s emissions. Investing in developing technology like tidal, current, and geothermal energy can help nations not only meet climate goals but also become less reliant on the importation of liquid fuel from other countries.

Fourth, the marine transport sector also shows great potential for improved efficiency. Countries can kick-start their green transportation efforts by creating cross-sectoral decarbonization plans, setting explicit efficiency goals, and investing in battery and wind-operated transport.

This roadmap, while demanding, has the potential to benefit developing nations the most, and empower them to significantly upgrade their climate goals. The paper also emphasized the need to coordinate marine efforts with land efforts. Eliza Northrop, Policy Lead for WRI’s Sustainable Ocean Initiative, and Mario Finch, a Climate Action & Data researcher at WRI, wrote in a blog post accompanying the paper, “the solutions offered by the ocean cannot continue to be overlooked in climate policy,” but specified that, “limiting temperature rises and preventing the worst impacts of climate change requires using every available solution in tandem.

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