30X30 In hot water: the climate crisis and the urgent need for ocean protection

Ocean warming Climate change mitigation Global environmental change Marine management carbon capture and storage Marine reserves
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Two recent and substantive reports—the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere and the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services—set out the complex interplay between ocean and climate. They explain not only the impacts of rising greenhouse gasses on the ocean, but how ocean and marine life carries out essential ecosystem functions which, among other things, provide food, sequester and store carbon, and generate oxygen.

This report draws on this research and much of the recent science. It sets out how, by protecting at least 30% of the ocean in a network of ocean sanctuaries, we can build resilience in ocean ecosystems so they can better withstand rapid changes, and help mitigate climate change by promoting carbon sequestration and storage.

Key findings:

  • Every human being on Earth depends on a healthy ocean with thriving marine ecosystems and the vital functions they provide within the Earth system, including their role in regulating the climate and the sequestration and storage of carbon.
  • Climate change and loss of ocean biodiversity cannot be tackled separately because of the interlinkage of natural ecosystems and the climate, yet there is no multilateral plan, nor global body with the relevant capabilities to deal with these twin crises.
  • The pace of change in basic ocean chemistry is likely to have far-ranging impacts on marine species and ecosystems. Some species will migrate to less affected or unaffected areas, some will adapt and others will be driven to extinction.
  • Our continued reliance on burning fossil fuels and the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions has led to ocean heating, sea level rise, ocean acidification and deoxygenation. The impacts of these changes are rapid and large-scale, already disrupting ecosystem structure and functions across the globe with farreaching implications for both biodiversity and humankind.
  • The only mechanism open to us to reduce and ultimately reverse the accumulation of anthropogenic CO2 in the oceans, and to mitigate the climate crisis, is to drastically cut emissions. The risks for natural and human systems are significantly lower for global warming of 1.5°C than at 2°C, meaning countries must act now.
  • Ocean sanctuaries, i.e. fully protected marine reserves where all extractive activities are prohibited, increase the coping capacity of marine life to the multiple stresses unleashed by climate change, ocean acidification and deoxygenation.
  • Establishing a global network of ocean sanctuaries encompassing a portfolio of ecosystems is vital to safeguarding natural stores of CO2 in the ocean ('blue carbon') and the ecosystems and processes which contribute to their accumulation—thus keeping the planet healthy, and protecting the livelihoods of the millions of people who depend on healthy oceans.
  • A robust Global Ocean Treaty must be agreed in 2020 to safeguard and restore the health of our oceans, and pave the way for the establishment of a network of ocean sanctuaries in international waters.
  • At the 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties (COP 15), governments must agree to globally binding targets for the protection of at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 through the establishment of networks of ocean sanctuaries, with the remaining 70% of the ocean sustainably managed.
  • Deep sea mining poses a risk to deep sea biodiversity and processes, including carbon sequestration and burial in the deep sea. A ban on deep sea mining is required as it has not been clearly demonstrated that it can be managed in such a way that does not disrupt ecosystem functions, ensures the effective protection of the marine environment and prevents loss of biodiversity.
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