22 Apr 2020 - Marking 50 years of Earth Day amid the COVID-19 fallout brings greater urgency to climate-change action for marine life and more.
Allowing the planet’s ocean life to recover to full abundance by 2050 is not only achievable, a large group of research scientists says, but necessary to help feed the world, hold down insurance costs and keep profitable tourism afloat.
The ocean currently contributes 2.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and provides employment to 1.5% of the global workforce. Its estimated output was put at $1.5 trillion in 2010, which is expected to double by 2030, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Supporting this economic engine is an effort that governments, universities and corporations can only jointly achieve and only if man-made climate change acceleration is checked, said Carlos Duarte, a professor of marine science, at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
“Rebuilding marine life represents a doable grand challenge for humanity, an ethical obligation and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future,” added Susana Agusti, KAUST professor of marine science.
A report by Duarte, Agusti and others published in the journal Nature ahead of Wednesday’s marking of the 50th Earth Day, joins marine scientists across four continents, 10 countries and 16 universities.
What’s the cost for substantial rebuilding of marine life by 2050?
The researchers estimate at least $10 billion to $20 billion per year is needed to extend protection actions to reach 50% of the ocean space and substantial additional funds for restoration. Yet the economic return from this commitment will be considerable, projected by this group to be around $10 per every $1 invested and creating in excess of one million new jobs.
Ecotourism in protected areas provides 4–12 times greater economic returns than fishing without reserves, although rebuilt fisheries alone could increase the annual profits of the global seafood industry by $53 billion, the report argues. And conserving coastal wetlands could save the insurance industry $52 billion annually by reducing storm flooding while providing additional benefits of carbon sequestration, income and subsistence from harvesting and from fisheries supported by coastal wetlands.
Duarte and company believe they’ve offered specific, evidence-based recommendations to scale proven solutions globally but only if the industry that fishes these oceans and the governments that regulate them, grouped with nonprofits and others, all act with a singular purpose. Capital markets, too, must play their part.
The United Nations initiated, in 2018, a pact to reach a new legally binding treaty to protect marine life in the high seas by 2020. This proposed treaty could enhance cooperation, governance and funds for conservation and restoration of high-seas and deep-sea ecosystems damaged or at risk from commercial interests. This mandate alone would require funding of around $30 million annually, which could be financed through long-term bonds in international capital markets or taxes on resource extraction, the report suggests.