One Earth, one ocean

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The ocean and the at­mos­phere are linked in ways that are only just be­gin­ning to be fully un­der­stood. Like sib­lings, the sky above us and the wa­ters around us share many char­ac­ter­is­tics – most no­tably th­ese days a need to be pro­tected. We are sib­lings work­ing on a shared agenda to de­fend both – an agenda that will de­fine the fu­ture for many mil­lions of broth­ers, sis­ters, fa­thers, moth­ers, friends, and neigh­bours, as well as life-forms on the land and in the seas, now and for gen­er­a­tions to come.

For­tu­nately, gov­ern­ments around the world are be­gin­ning to un­der­stand the chal­lenge, and are ex­pected to de­liver – or at least make progress to­ward – two im­por­tant agree­ments this year: a new global treaty to pro­tect marine life in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, and a cli­mate-change ac­cord to safe­guard the at­mos­phere. To­gether with a suite of Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals, th­ese agree­ments will serve as cru­cial road signs in­di­cat­ing the path to be fol­lowed by the world’s na­tional economies over the next 15 years and be­yond.

The planned ac­cords come amid ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts by coun­tries, cities, com­pa­nies, and cit­i­zens to pro­tect the cli­mate and the ocean. In­vest­ments in re­new­able en­ergy are run­ning at well over $250 bln a year, and many coun­tries are spend­ing as much on green forms of en­ergy pro­duc­tion as they do on fos­sil fu­els.

Our na­tive Costa Rica, for ex­am­ple, now gets 80% of its en­ergy from re­new­able sources. In China, re­new­ables are ex­pand­ing rapidly, and coal con­sump­tion fell by 2.9% year on year in 2014. Mean­while, off­shore, the need for more marine re­serves and sus­tain­able fish­ing is be­ing recog­nised and, in some cases, met, with tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs strength­en­ing of­fi­cials’ abil­ity to mon­i­tor and track il­le­gal catches.

Sci­en­tists study­ing cli­mate change have shown how the prob­lem can be tack­led by adopt­ing a clear path with pro­gres­sive mile­stones. We must bring global emis­sions to a peak in the next decade, drive them down rapidly there­after, and es­tab­lish a bal­ance be­tween emis­sions and the planet’s nat­u­ral ab­sorp­tive ca­pac­ity by the sec­ond half of the cen­tury.

The ocean has his­tor­i­cally played an im­por­tant role in achiev­ing that bal­ance. As a nat­u­ral car­bon sink, it ab­sorbs ap­prox­i­mately 25% of all the car­bon diox­ide emit­ted by hu­man ac­tiv­ity an­nu­ally. But we are over­tax­ing its ab­sorp­tive ca­pac­ity. The car­bon dis­solved in the ocean has al­tered its chem­istry, driv­ing up acid­ity by 30% since the be­gin­ning of the Industrial Revo­lu­tion. The rate of change is, to the best of our knowl­edge, many times faster than at any time in the last 65 mln years, and pos­si­bly the last 300 mln years.

If CO2 emis­sions are not brought un­der con­trol, the rate of acid­i­fi­ca­tion will con­tinue to ac­cel­er­ate – with deadly ef­fects on the ocean’s in­hab­i­tants. As CO2 from the at­mos­phere is churned into the world’s wa­ters, it re­duces the avail­abil­ity of car­bon­ate ions needed by many marine an­i­mals and plants to build their shells and skele­tons. If CO2 lev­els con­tinue to rise at their cur­rent rates, sci­en­tists es­ti­mate that around 10% of the Arc­tic Ocean will be cor­ro­sive enough to dis­solve the shells of sea crea­tures by 2018. Many other oceanic bod­ies face a sim­i­lar fu­ture.

In­ter­na­tional agree­ments suc­ceed best when the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, and so­cial trends of the time align, as they have now, to give rise to a new vi­sion of the fu­ture and a new re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­man­ity and the planet we share. Re­al­is­ing this vi­sion will in­volve mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions. Both the ocean and the cli­mate are in need of global, cred­i­ble, mea­sur­able, ac­tion­able plans to pro­vide for their pro­tec­tion. Our scat­tered, fully pro­tected marine re­serves must be ex­panded from the 1% of the ocean they cur­rently pro­tect to form a truly global net­work.

Last month, 13 Caribbean heads of state and gov­ern­ment called for an ef­fec­tive global agree­ment, cit­ing cur­rent and emerg­ing im­pacts. It is an alarm­ing list: “more fre­quent ex­treme events, more in­tense and chang­ing rain­fall pat­terns, more ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and ocean warm­ing, coral bleach­ing, ris­ing sea lev­els, coastal ero­sion, salin­i­sa­tion of aquifers, the greatly ac­cel­er­ated emer­gence of new com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases, re­duced agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity, and a dis­rup­tion of fish­ing tra­di­tions.”

Such threats are proof of the ur­gent need to ex­pand the in­ter­na­tional rules pro­vid­ing for the con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­able man­age­ment of the cli­mate and marine life. The cli­mate-change agree­ment ex­pected to be reached in Paris in De­cem­ber will not solve the prob­lem at the stroke of a pen, just as no agree­ment to pro­tect marine life will, on its own, lead to a health­ier ocean. But it is es­sen­tial that we es­tab­lish the pol­icy pathways needed to en­sure that all coun­tries play their part in pro­tect­ing the planet, while as­sist­ing the vul­ner­a­ble to adapt to the ef­fects of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion al­ready un­der­way.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cyprus

© PressReader. All rights reserved.