The urgent need to ramp up global efforts to tackle the climate crisis has and will remain to be top of the agenda at a series of major international events over the coming years. But it is likely that one key dimension of this vitally important policy dialogues – oceans – will continue to be relegated to the sidelines.
It is, of course, essential for governments and businesses to continue focusing on how best to reduce emissions to keep to global warming below 1.5 degrees. But the continued emphasis on mitigation strategies instead of a more balanced mitigation and adaptation approach has resulted in insufficient attention and resources flowing towards vulnerable communities and sectors. These sectors are already feeling the destructive impacts of global warming and climate variability-destructive impacts that are primarily being felt through the water.
Meanwhile, the already underwhelming progress on adaptation continues to be skewed towards forests. Little attention being accorded to ocean conservations which are equally important climate responses – which must be at the heart of the climate agenda.
According to a report from the Blue Economy Conference, there is no doubt that climate change is going to exacerbate threats to our oceans, rivers, and wetlands, and the timing, quantity, and quality of the world’s water supplies. But there is also no doubt that oceans can help mitigate local and global climate risks — that it is an under-recognized and under-valued lever for adaptation.
The world has one ocean and its health is critical. Despite its crucial role in contributing to poverty eradication, global food security, human health, economic development and curbing climate change, our ocean is increasingly threatened, degraded or destroyed by human activities, reducing their ability to provide crucial support to our ecosystem. Today, pressures on coastal and marine ecosystems continue to increase, as more communities live along coasts, putting an unsustainable strain on coastal resources. This trend is foreseen to continue given the predicted global population growth.
Already today, 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks are over-exploited, while more than 50 percent are fully exploited. Coastal habitats are under pressure, with approximately 20 percent of the world’s coral reef lost and another 20 percent degraded. Plastic waste alone kills up to one million sea birds, a hundred thousand sea mammals and countless fish each year. An estimated 80 percent of marine pollution comes from land-based activities. Moreover, vulnerable groups, including the poor, women, children and indigenous people and coastal communities and countries with a high dependency on the oceans and their marine resources are particularly affected.
Our oceans define our planet. It sustains us and is home to all the life on earth today. The presence of the ocean touches every living thing no matter where it lives. The air we breathe; the water we drink are ultimately linked to the seas. The ocean drives our weather and stabilizes our climate.
Nature is more powerful and unforgiving, yet more beautiful and endlessly fascinating. However, for too long, we have taken the ocean for granted. Our actions have pushed species to the brick and have had an impact on every ocean habitat no matter how remote or how deep.
We have not yet understood what the ocean does for us. The effects of climate change have been suffered by the ocean. But now, we are facing the consequences. The seas are warm, rising and becoming more acidic. It is a scary thought that coral reefs may be lost within the last century.
We all need a healthy ocean. So we must change our ways. Together with the right management, we can repopulate the sea. We can reduce marine pollution and minimize the impacts of ocean acidification. The ocean’s power of regeneration is remarkable if we just offer it the chance. It is not too late. We are in reach of a whole new relationship with the oceans, wiser, more sustainable relationship.
The choice lies with us!