Climate Solutions: Ocean and Climate Change Toolbox
Oceans and climate change intersect with many other issues, a crossover likely to be emphasized in the upcoming United Nations Ocean Conference and in future ocean-based climate discussions. The list of resources below reflects some of that intersection in order to help environmental journalists better cover the field of “blue climate” solutions.
IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate
This report, issued in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a good place to start for any story on the oceans and climate. It’s a beast to read, but extensive and full of critical information. It transformed the conversation around climate and oceans, highlighting the influence of oceans for the first time. Also includes summaries and a glossary.
U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water
The United Nations in 2015 adopted 17 ambitious “sustainable development goals,” or SDGs, that aim to change the lives of everyone in the world for the better. SDG 14, focused on oceans, is the least funded of all the goals. This information page provides facts and figures, targets and links. In 2018, the U.N. also launched the SDG Media Compact, which includes tools for reporters on ocean and climate topics.
U.N. Ocean Conference 2022
The conference, hosted in Lisbon by the governments of Portugal and Kenya in late June-early July 2022, will try to lay out commitments from member nations to achieve the targets in SDG 14 (see above). The conference was originally scheduled for 2020 in order to kick off a “Decade of the Ocean,” but was delayed to 2022 due to COVID-19.
Plastic Pollution Treaty
The first global treaty on plastic pollution was endorsed in a U.N. Environment Assembly resolution in March 2022 to address the growing global emissions attributed to plastics, which the fossil fuel industry is eyeing as an important continued revenue stream. With hundreds of millions of tons of plastic entering the ocean each day, it’s unclear whether the treaty will be able to address those environmental concerns.
High Seas Treaty
The open ocean remains the largest unpoliced and unregulated area on the planet. Despite years of effort, attempts by the international community to put in place a treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, otherwise known as the BBNJ treaty, failed again in March 2022.
Shipping and Fisheries
International Maritime Organization
Shipping accounts for as much greenhouse gas emissions as aviation and efforts to cut emissions are now being discussed as part of pledges to the nationally determined contributions in the Paris Agreement.
Negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies
As climate change pushes the locations of fish stocks to higher latitudes, and changes in seasonal timing of food webs shift fish from traditional fishing grounds, the economics of fishing become more unsustainable without significant subsidies. The $35 billion in subsidies to fishers are under negotiation, and an announcement is expected from the World Trade Organization in June 2022.
Fisheries and Aquaculture
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization is responsible for all data collection on fisheries worldwide. Fisheries are one of the longest supply chains and the most difficult to track of all products, while illegal fishing remains a critical problem. Find factsheets, publications, calendar and more.
Sea Level Rise
Climate and Sea Level
Climate change increases sea level for two reasons. Warmer water expands and ice locked up in land-based ice melts. This NASA website includes a dashboard with current sea level rise data, as well as links to evidence, causes, effects, scientific consensus and a FAQ.
NOAA has developed an interactive sea level rise viewer where you can visualize different levels of sea level rise for the United States and then zoom in to explore local scenarios. The database is also downloadable.
Coral Reefs at Risk
Coral, which support a quarter of all marine life, are the first major marine ecosystem to be at risk of extinction due to climate change. This 2020 report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network summarizes the condition of coral globally. A 2021 comparison of reefs from The Nature Conservancy and Canada's Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance provides a clear assessment of risks to reefs.
Kelp Forest As Carbon Sink
Kelp forests are critical marine habitats, important to local economies and have the potential to store significant amounts of carbon.
Fish As Carbon Sink
Fish, through their waste, respiration and their own bodies, are responsible for about 16% of the carbon the ocean sequesters, while fishing exacerbates climate change, according to this 2020 study published in Science.
Mangroves store enormous amounts of carbon and are considered a “nature-based solution,” but are being rapidly destroyed, finds this 2020 NASA study.
Our Shared Seas
This project closely follows trends in ocean policy and science and offers excellent reports on the recent status of marine systems globally. It also follows and evaluates a wide array of proposed solutions.
The Blue Economy
This initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy's Water Power Technologies Office signals a shift in perspective, recognizing the ocean not as an infinite resource to be exploited, but as an asset that deserves to be valued, such as markets and technologies that integrate marine renewable energy.
Marine Protected Areas
Like national parks on land, marine protected areas are established to sustain biodiversity and healthy ecosystems amid changing seas. There are concerns as to their effectiveness, but continue to be encouraged. Initiated in the U.K., the U.N. has endorsed a target of protecting 30% of the seas by 2030, described in this account.
Similar to green bonds on land, blue bonds raise money in exchange for commitments to marine conservation. This is likely an important element of bolstering marine systems against climate change and a key tool to be discussed at the U.N. Ocean Conference. Find details in this World Economic Forum report.
The Nature Conservancy proposed the idea of “climate-ready fisheries” that are prepared to adapt to climate changes by integrating science with management. The organization has also played a key role in coral reef health worldwide and is advancing some of the most innovative ocean finance tools to ensure coral health, including reef insurance, blue bonds and debt-for-ocean swaps.
Blue Carbon in Sea Grasses, Mangroves, Marshes
A new effort from Conservation International’s Blue Carbon Initiative to bolster coastal health by developing carbon offsets in mangroves, sea grasses and tidal marshes.
Urban Ocean Lab
This New York-based think tank is focused on the growing recognition that social justice requires responding to the disproportionate impact climate change will have on coastal communities, who are often people of color and/or the marginalized.
These resources were compiled for SEJournal by Juli Berwald, an Austin, Texas-based ocean scientist, science writer and author. Her most recent book, “Life on the Rocks: Building a Future for Coral Reefs,” was published in April 2022.