25 Oct 2019 - As a key variable in the fight against climate change, the world's oceans cannot be a mere afterthought on the global economic and environmental agenda. We should invest in protecting the oceans as if our future depended on it, because it does.
OSLO – The Earth’s oceans face many threats, none of which have quick fixes. Still, the solutions are known, and with a sufficiently broad coalition of partners, we can get the ball rolling on a number of fronts.
A wide range of human activities – from burning fossil fuels to over-fishing – have been degrading the oceans for years. By increasing the absorption of carbon dioxide, global warming is acidifying the oceans and reducing oxygen levels, harming or killing marine plants, animals, and other organisms. And as the ice caps melt, rising sea levels are increasingly putting hundreds of millions of people in coastal areas at risk.
Moreover, owing to a lack of modern treatment plants in many cities, especially in Africa and Asia, sewage is being dumped into rivers and canals, where it eventually runs off into the oceans, introducing large amounts of plastic particles and toxins. The tons of trash dumped daily into streets, backyards, rivers, beaches, and coastal areas also end up in the oceans. Many of these products, such as grocery bags and bottled-water containers, contain hazardous chemicals that are eaten by fish and then consumed by people, leading to a wide range of health issues.
Fixing these problems will require cooperation at all levels. It will also require new resources, and not just to repair eroded coastlines and prepare for rising seas and extreme weather. We must crack down on illegal fishing, fund research, and develop lower-carbon sea transportation and sustainable seafood production. Moreover, we urgently need to devise better methods of plastic collection and forms of reusable packaging, while improving wastewater treatment and storm-water management to keep plastics and other waste out of the waterways in the first place.
Saving the oceans should not be an afterthought. More than three billion people depend on the oceans for their livelihoods. Ocean and coastal resources and industries contribute about $3 trillion per year (5% of world GDP) to the global economy and offer huge potential for further growth, job creation, and innovation. Oceans are also a major source of renewable energy and natural resources. Their environmental value is huge. Oceans have taken up between 20-30% of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions since the 1980s. They produce over half of the world’s oxygen, and transport heat from the equator to the poles, thus regulating our climate.