Ocean-based climate action can play a much bigger role in shrinking the world’s carbon footprint than was previously thought. It could deliver up to a fifth (21%, or 11 GtCO2e) of the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts needed in 2050 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Reductions of this magnitude are larger than annual emissions from all current coal fired power plants world-wide.
This is a key finding of a new scientific report, The Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change: 5 Opportunities for Action, published on sept 23rd 2019 at the U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York. The report, produced by the Expert Group of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy – a group of 14 heads of state and government – provides the first ever comprehensive, quantitative analysis into the role that ocean-based solutions can play in the fight against climate change.
The Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change
The Science: The Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change
The Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change: 5 Opportunities for Action, published today (23 September, 2019) at the U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York, finds that the ocean economy and coastal regions could play a much bigger role in shrinking the world’s carbon footprint and limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C than previously realized.
Produced in support of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (a group of 14 heads of state and government: the heads of state and government of Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal), the report provides the first ever comprehensive, quantitative analysis into how ocean-based climate action can contribute to limiting globalheating. It finds that, although the impacts of climate change are threatening the ocean’s ability to provide the foundations for a sustainable economy, building the sustainable blue economy will curb GHG emissions while reducing other human-made impacts from further undermining ocean health.
The report proposes five opportunities for ocean-based action which, together, could deliver up to a fifth (21%, or 11 GtCO2e) of the annual GHG emissions cuts required by 2050 to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Reductions of this magnitude are larger than the emissions from all current coal-fired power plants world-wide.
Five Opportunities for Action:
1. Harness Ocean-Based Renewable Energy
Installing offshore and ocean-based renewable energy production – including wind, wave, tidal, current and solar – offers very promising climate mitigation potential (up to 5.40 GtCO2e a year by 2050 – equivalent to taking 1 billion cars off the road annually). This can be scaled up to meet future energy demand and become cost-competitive.
2. Decarbonize Ocean-Based Transport
Decarbonizing the shipping industry – through energy efficiency measures, improved hull design, and low-carbon fuels – would also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (up to 1.8 GtCO2e a year by 2050).
3. Invest in Nature-Based Climate Solutions
Ensuring the protection and restoration of coastal ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems – mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes – would secure considerable CO2 sequestration and storage benefits (up to 1 GtCO2e a year by 2050), while delivering coastal protection, key habitats, food security and jobs. Adding seaweed farming to the nature-based solution set would remove an additional .29 GtCO2e a year by 2050.
4. Secure Sustainable Food for the Future
Shifting diets to sustainable marine sources (such as seafood, seaweed and kelp) is a brand new area of potential explored by this report. Increasing the consumption of low-carbon sources of marine protein could provide an alternative to high emitting land-based sources (red meat). Coupled with reducing emissions from the fisheries and aquaculture industries, food from the ocean could support a reduction of up to 1.24 GtCO2e each year by 2050.
5. Advance the Deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage
Technological approaches, such as carbon sequestration in the seabed, offer great potential to store carbon (up to 2 GtCO2e each year by 2050). However, significant investment in additional research and development would be required to ensure associated risks to the marine environment are minimized.
The Political Will: Call to Ocean-Based Climate Action
To set the proposed solutions in motion, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy issued an urgent and practical ‘Call to Ocean-Based Climate Action’ today. The Panel is calling for political commitments, business partnerships and investments to capitalize on the ocean’s untapped potential to fight climate change, while providing a viable and sustainable future for economies, food sources, coastal communities and sea life.
In tandem with efforts to decarbonize land-based industries, including phasing out fossil fuels and restoring and protecting forests, these ocean-based actions can set the world on a new pathway to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future that would help us meet the targets of the Paris. What is more, they will help protect coastal communities from increasingly severe storms, boost food security, safeguard and create jobs, avoid air pollution, restore habitats for wildlife and help maintain economic growth, thereby contributing to many of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Action: Responses to the Call
The technology the world needs is already available to accelerate many ocean-based climate actions immediately and many of the governments represented on the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy are already coming forward with early action and new ocean-climate commitments.
The Call to Ocean-Climate Action has also spurred immediate responses from other organisations.
What is the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy?
Established in September 2018, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy is a unique group of 14 serving heads of state and government committed to catalyzing bold, pragmatic solutions for ocean health and wealth that support the SDGs and build a better future for people and the planet.
The Panel consists of the presidents or prime ministers of Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal. Its members represent approximately 30% of the world’s coastlines, 30% of the world’s exclusive economic zones, 20% of the world’s ocean catch, and 20% of the world’s shipping fleet.
The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy works with governments, experts and stakeholders from around the world to develop a road map for rapidly transitioning to a sustainable ocean economy. A practical ‘to-do list’ for the ocean will be presented in 2020, a critical year for ocean action and the deadline for many SDG targets.
The Panel is supported by an Expert Group, Advisory Network and Secretariat that assist with analytical work, communications and stakeholder engagement. The Secretariat is based at World Resources Institute.
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