December 12, 2019

HLP Blue Paper Makes Recommendations for Oceanic Health and Wealth in a Changing Climate

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

The High Level Panel on the Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP) has released a blue paper that analyzes the expected impacts of climate change on the ocean economy, with a focus on marine fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. The paper confirms the central importance of the ocean economy to global health and wealth and assesses how industries must adapt to climate induced changes to oceanic conditions. 

The HLP is an initiative of 14 serving heads of government committed to catalyzing bold, pragmatic solutions for ocean health and wealth in support of the SDGs and a better future for people and the planet. The HLP aims to develop a roadmap for rapidly transitioning to a sustainable ocean economy and to trigger, amplify and accelerate responsive action worldwide. The HLP has commissioned a series of 16 Blue Papers to explore issues on the ocean and the economy to be published between November 2019 and June 2020.

This Blue Paper, titled ‘The expected impacts of climate change on the ocean economy’, states that ocean-based industries and activities contribute approximately US$2.5 trillion to the global economy each year, making the ocean the seventh-largest global economy when compared with national gross domestic product (GDP). The ocean also provides hundreds of millions of jobs. Further, it provides significant non-market services and benefits that may “far exceed the value added by market-based goods and services.”

The report cautions that climate change is altering ocean climate, sea level, circulation, ice distribution and industry; changes that then impact ocean habitats, species assemblages and biological productivities. As the ocean warms and becomes more acidic as a result of climate change, for example, fish are predicted to migrate to cooler waters, which will jeopardize the livelihoods of fishing communities in some regions and “increase the potential for conflict over shifting resources.” Consequently, the report states “swift efforts” to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are critical to “maintain a robust ocean economy.” The report finds all countries can significantly benefit, compared to a business-as-usual scenario, by implementing climate-adaptive fisheries management reforms that address both changes in species productivities and distributions as a result of climate change. With effective adaptation, the report states “many countries could maintain or improve profits and catches into the future.”

All countries will experience negative impacts on coral reef cover and tourism values as a result of ocean warming and ocean acidification. Under a high emissions scenario, coral cover is predicted to decline by 72-87%, resulting in a decrease of on-reef tourism values by more than 90% in 2100. The report finds reef tourism losses could be an average of 95% in Australia, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico and Thailand, the five largest coral reef tourism industries. Even with reduced carbon emissions, the reef tourism industry is predicted to experience economic losses of up to 66%. To preserve this industry, the report recommends conservation and restoration measures to enhance the resilience of ocean ecosystems.

The report highlights the urgency of reducing global carbon emissions and implementing an adaptive response to ocean management. The paper recommends implementing certain strategies to build socio-ecological resilience to climate change and ensure continued, or improved, ocean functions and services. First, the report recommends examining the equity implications of all new and existing management decisions for the fisheries, aquaculture and reef tourism sectors. Second, the report states the nature of magnitude of changes to the ocean economy will be highly variable and recommends the fisheries, aquaculture and reef tourism sectors each work to understand risk and anticipate changes and integrate precautionary and adaptive strategies into their management decisions. Third, the report calls for international, regional and national cooperative agreements to ensure that species are well-managed and benefits are fairly distributed.

The report co-authors and ocean experts presented the Blue Paper’s findings at an event on the sidelines of the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the UNFCCC.