The state of our oceans is crit­i­cal as we re­set the world’s cli­mate com­pass

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - JES­SICA BLYTHE Jes­sica Blythe is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the En­vi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity Re­search Cen­tre at Brock Univer­sity in St. Catharines

Given the re­lent­less alarm­ing news about Earth’s live­abil­ity — col­laps­ing bird pop­u­la­tions, weather calami­ties, forests wiped out by pests — you’d think that ad­dress­ing cli­mate change would be the unrivalled theme for Canada’s elec­tion front-run­ners.

News me­dia are even re­port­ing that some Cana­di­ans are not hav­ing chil­dren be­cause of their de­spair for the fu­ture.

Yet some politi­cians woo us with shiny tax cuts in­stead of mea­sures that might help us sur­vive. No won­der it falls to move­ments like Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion to con­front re­al­ity.

Re­set­ting the world’s com­pass to­ward sus­tain­abil­ity re­quires not just re­spon­si­ble but equitable use of re­sources — in­clud­ing our oceans.

Cov­er­ing more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s sur­face, oceans are home to some of the planet’s most crit­i­cal ecosys­tems, sup­port­ing the well-be­ing of hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple. But they’re un­der threat — be­com­ing hot­ter, more acidic, los­ing oxy­gen.

Coastal com­mu­ni­ties in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are al­ready be­ing pun­ished. They may be the least re­spon­si­ble for cli­mate change, yet bear the brunt of it. Re­cently, the tiny Pa­cific na­tion of Kiri­bati be­came the first coun­try forced to buy land in re­sponse to ris­ing sea lev­els.

To push back against cli­mate in­equal­ity, we must first un­der­stand it. So­cial sci­en­tists can help, by di­ag­nos­ing its root causes, de­scrib­ing al­ter­na­tive re­sponses and iden­ti­fy­ing paths to more equitable fu­tures.

For causes, start by con­sid­er­ing that coastal com­mu­ni­ties and marginal­ized groups are ex­cluded from any ocean gov­er­nance de­ci­sion­mak­ing pro­cesses that im­pact them di­rectly.

As well, un­even ac­cess to oceans un­der­lies coastal in­equal­ity. In­dus­trial fleets from wealthy na­tions catch most of the world’s fish, and in­ten­sive fish­ing by de­vel­oped coun­tries comes at the ex­pense of poorer ones.

One re­cent study found that five rich coun­tries (China, Tai­wan, Ja­pan, South Korea, and Spain) dom­i­nate 86 per cent of global fish­ing ef­fort.

This is ex­ac­er­bated on the high seas. Not only do most deep-wa­ter catches go to feed af­flu­ent coun­tries, but their fleets tar­get pelagic fish like tuna, a crit­i­cal food source for Pa­cific coun­tries that are fall­ing short of their per capita pro­tein re­quire­ments. Per­haps more of­fen­sive, many in­dus­trial fleets are sup­ported by sub­si­dies. As much as 54 per cent of high-seas fish­ing would not be prof­itable with­out them.

To elim­i­nate or re­duce the causes of this in­jus­tice, re­searchers have cre­ated dif­fer­ent fu­ture sce­nar­ios by us­ing plau­si­ble de­mo­graphic, eco­nomic and gov­er­nance trends. One in­ter­na­tional team of cli­mate sci­en­tists de­vel­oped five sce­nar­ios called “shared so­cioe­co­nomic path­ways,” or SSPs, that en­vi­sion dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent fu­tures. SSP1 de­scribes a global com­mu­nity of sus­tain­able growth and equal­ity, whereas SSP4 de­picts a world where highly un­equal in­vest­ments in hu­man cap­i­tal, com­bined with dis­par­i­ties in eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and po­lit­i­cal power, lead to in­creas­ing in­equal­i­ties, both be­tween and within coun­tries.

These mod­els — meant to help us see how global gov­er­nance, de­mo­graph­ics and eco­nomics could change over the next cen­tury — have been adopted by the UN’s In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, and are be­ing used to ex­plore how so­ci­etal choices will af­fect green­house gas emis­sions, and how the goals of the Paris Agree­ment could be met.

As for mov­ing to­ward cli­mate jus­tice for coastal com­mu­ni­ties, there is al­ready sig­nif­i­cant re­search in this space. For in­stance, tran­si­tion schol­ars say the world will be­come a low-car­bon so­ci­ety be­cause of pos­si­bil­i­ties through in­no­va­tion, and grow­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

Ocean eq­uity is also be­com­ing main­streamed into pol­icy. The United Na­tions is in ne­go­ti­a­tions to de­velop a treaty to gov­ern the high seas, and one of the core con­cerns is equitable dis­tri­bu­tion of marine re­sources, par­tic­u­larly to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. In 2018, the High Level Panel on Sus­tain­able Oceans and the Blue Econ­omy is­sued a call to ac­tion for ocean­based cli­mate so­lu­tions. The re­cently an­nounced UN Decade of Ocean Sci­ence for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment em­pha­sizes the role that lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties play in ad­vanc­ing cli­mate jus­tice.

Still, some politi­cians and their bases re­main in de­nial.

The road to­ward cli­mate jus­tice is one that must be trav­elled with ur­gency. Each of the last three decades has been suc­ces­sively warmer than any decade since 1850. Con­tin­u­ing this trend will make hu­man life very dif­fi­cult, not only for coastal com­mu­ni­ties but for the en­tire planet.

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