Young boy with fishing spear and starfish, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.
© Roberto Rinaldi/npl/Minden Pictures
Climate change is impacting the ocean by melting the icecaps, changing major ocean current systems, warming waters, raising sea levels, and making the ocean more acidic. These changes are serious threats to marine life and the natural resources on which millions of people worldwide depend.
CI's Climate Change team is committed to using every opportunity to fight what is arguably the biggest environmental issue of our time. We are working with communities, governments and partner organizations to conduct climate change vulnerability assessments in priority marine regions around the world. By assessing the health of threatened marine ecosystems – including seagrasses, mangroves, and coral reefs – the team can determine areas that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and offer the science-based recommendations needed to facilitate conservation action on the ground.
To date, these regional assessment workshops have been conducted in coastal Madagascar, the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape and the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape, each one producing a set of recommendations and solutions that can be used to prioritize conservation efforts. In addition, CI's Marine Climate Change team has developed a set of global recommendations, synthesizing the results of the workshops and latest climate change science.
Among our recommendations:
Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations must be stabilized at 350parts per million (ppm) CO2e to ensure the long-term survival of major marine systems. At 450 ppm (estimated to occur by 2030-2040 if current emissions rates continue), coral reefs will be in rapid decline worldwide from the combination of warming ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and other environmental impacts. Research is needed immediately to advise how 350 ppm CO2e can be achieved.
- Immediate and substantial adaptation action is needed to allow people and other species to survive climate change-driven changes to the oceans and coastal ecosystems. Actions must include: accounting for climate-related shifts in fisheries management; coastal zone planning; and protection of important habitats such as seagrasses, mangroves and coral reefs that protect against erosion, storm flooding, maintain important fisheries and provide other benefits for coastal communities.
The international community must quickly mobilize large-scale funding and capacity to assist developing countries in implementing effective climate change adaptation activities. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the coastal impacts of climate change and to impacts of climate change on fisheries and other marine resources. These countries also urgently require significant capacity building to empower local communities to implement effective adaptation. This must include support for short term action, technology transfer, and building long-term capacity and institutions.
Political agreements and legal mechanisms must be modified to ensure countries can maintain their natural resources and livelihoods despite the impacts of climate change. For example, maintaining the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundaries and associated rights of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) even if sea level rise results in the loss of land from which the EEZ boundary is demarcated. The size of the EEZ should remain the same size despite loss of land resulting in rising ocean levels.
Climate change mitigation must directly reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Climate change mitigation techniques that do not prevent carbon dioxide emissions – such as aerosols to reduce solar radiation – will not address the increasing acidification of the oceans, the resulting severe impacts on major ocean ecosystems and hence the impacts on important marine resources such as fisheries.
The significant role of ocean habitats in the long-term sequestration of carbon must be recognized and included in climate change mitigation calculations, policies and actions. The degradation and loss of coastal ocean habitats must now be addressed as a key mechanism for carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation.