Why major action is needed to protect our oceans from potential devastation
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), environmental threats to human and natural systems will be greatly reduced if global warming is limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as opposed to more extreme warming of 2°C.
By comparison, a 1.5°C temperature increase is associated with lower rates of climate change that will give humans, animals, and ecosystems more time to adapt and survive.
The IPCC explains that, even though the warming associated with emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist and cause further changes in the climate, these emissions alone are unlikely to push global warming to 1.5°C.
Some of the services provided by our terrestrial and marine ecosystems have already changed as a result of global warming. The IPCC suggests that with warming in excess of 2°C, these trends will become much more destructive. In the ocean alone, all of the planet’s coral reefs could be lost.
Peter Thomson is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean. In a feature for Time Magazine, Thomson emphasizes that we do not yet know the consequences of losing coral reefs or how ocean habitats will function without them.
“The predicament is that the planet is still on a devastating course toward 3° to 4° C global warming,” writes Thomson. “And yet, the IPCC report notes, it is still possible to stay at 1.5° C. The good news is that we have a plan. It’s multifaceted and requires a radical change of human production and consumption patterns, but it will succeed if people from all walks of life get behind it.”
Thomson says that, on a global level, we must remain dedicated to the targets of the Paris Agreement, as well as to the UN’s goal of conservation and sustainable use of the ocean’s resources.
“Beyond that, it is vital that we establish new law for marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions. There is already a conference under way at the U.N. working on this issue, as there is a growing scientific consensus that we need to move toward a goal of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030,” writes Thomson.
“On an individual level, we all have a role to play as well. In my own work, one of my top priorities is putting an end to the billions of dollars in government subsidies worldwide that go mostly to industrial fleets chasing diminishing stocks of fish – and ensuring that the public funds saved are spent on beneficial measures like establishing and enforcing marine-protected areas.”
“But everyone, from government officials to business executives to scientists to students, has the ability to make a difference. We can choose not to use nonessential plastics. We can consume seafood only from sustainable, legally caught stocks. We can get serious about reducing our carbon footprints, so we are on the right side of global efforts toward a carbon-neutral world by 2050.”
Thomson also points out the urgent need to understand more about ocean science. “We increasingly understand how little we actually know, and in these precarious times, it is essential that we have a firm grasp on whether we can afford to add new stressors to the ocean’s ecosystem.”
“All of this, and much more, is necessary if we want to deliver on the plan to save life in the ocean. Considering that every second breath we take comes from the ocean, it is clear we must.”
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