News

September 17, 2018

Ocean advocates find new ways to link their cause with climate change

News Source: Devex
Author: Catherine Cheney

SAN FRANCISCO — When Peter Thomson, United Nations special envoy for the ocean, took the stage at the Global Climate Action Summit on Friday, he called for a shift of focus — from problems to solutions — in the conversation around oceans.

“We’ve done our job on raising awareness of the problems,” he said. “What we have to move on to now is solutions to the problems we’ve identified and strategies for implementing those solutions.”

This week, a coalition of organizations including Conservation International, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the World Economic Forum launched the Ocean-Climate Action Agenda, which aims to shift the conversation from the harmful impact of climate change on the ocean to the critical role the ocean plays in the fight against climate change.

This broad effort aims to reposition ocean conservation, “not as a victim, but as the essential solution to the climate change problem,” Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and daughter of David and Lucile Packard, told Devex.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the planet, produces half the world’s oxygen, and absorbs 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans each year. But because oceans are not a source of greenhouse gas emissions, the issue did not fit neatly into conversations around the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement about mitigating climate change. Now ocean advocates are working to change that. One of the battles they face is money.

“The amount of funding going to oceans is almost trivial,” said M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, onstage at the summit.

Some West Coast-based foundations such as the Packard Foundation are trying to position oceans as a funding priority. The Global Climate Action Summit saw philanthropies commit $4 billion to climate change overall, and oceans are expected to comprise part of that portfolio.

Still, the scale of the ocean and climate challenge demands more private money and government action, Sanjayan said.

“If [the ocean] survives it will save us all,” he said.

Despite how inextricably linked the ocean and the climate are, the ocean conservation community and the climate change community have typically worked in silos, rather than in collaboration, said Emily Pidgeon, senior director for the oceans and climate program at Conservation International.

“Most ocean conservationists, with very few exceptions, got into it because we grew up on the beach. We’re all ‘fish huggers’ at heart, and so we all saw the impacts of climate change on the ocean,” Pidgeon said.

“And as the climate community was thinking about this in terms of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere we were yelling at them saying: ‘It is hurting this most wondrous thing we care about,’” she said.

Conversations around blue carbon — the carbon stored and sequestered by coastal ecosystems including mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrasses — first brought the climate and ocean communities together, according to Pidgeon. Ocean conservationists previously did not have answers to the questions policymakers were asking about the links between oceans and climate change. For example, what emissions would result if a mangrove was turned into a shrimp farm? But in recent years, ocean science researchers have spent more time investigating how oceans can sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“We used to kind of thank our lucky stars that the ocean absorbed all this carbon so that we didn’t grow our concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere as quickly.”

— Michael Northrop, program director for sustainable development at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, in a press conference on the Ocean-Climate Action Agenda.

Pidgeon explained that research showing the links between healthy oceans and mitigating global climate can be pivotal in setting funding priorities. The Green Climate Fund, for example, allocates funding based on how much carbon is saved from the atmosphere and how many people are protected from climate change.