The ocean is our greatest ally in our fight against the climate emergency – and the EU now has a golden opportunity to protect people, wildlife and our planet by supporting it, write Alex Rogers and Steve Trent.
Alex Rogers is Scientific Director at REV Ocean and Steve Trent is CEO and Co-Founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation.
We are currently facing the twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss. As we write this, heat waves in Pakistan are reach 50°C, temperatures that can quickly lead to heat exhaustion and death from hyperthermia in humans, and a mega-drought in Chile is underway. 13th grade.
Despite the importance of keeping global warming below 2°C and ideally below 1.5°C, global CO2 emissions have rebounded to their highest levels ever recorded in 2021.
Coupled with others direct impacts on marine life due to overfishing, destructive fishing techniques, coastal development and pollution, it’s no surprise that scientists are predicting sixth mass extinction.
The importance of “green carbon” stored on land, such as in forests, is widely recognized by the public and governments and is included in many commitments made under the Paris Climate Agreement.
However, blue carbon, the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems, has not been fully recognized, even though the ocean is the world’s largest active carbon sink and store. the earth system.
Coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests and seagrass beds are known for their rich and diverse fauna, and they also store up to ten times more carbon than an equivalent area of tropical rainforest.
Still since the 1970s, the global area of mangrove forests has decreased by about 40% and that of salt marshes by 60%. This has a double impact, because not only can they no longer take carbon out of the atmosphere, but what they were storing is released.
Beyond coastal ecosystems, scientists have found that coastal states’ continental shelves and deep waters harbor vast stores of carbon dioxide, dwarfing coastal stocks by up to two orders of magnitude.
Marine animals like sperm whales have been found to play a key role in the carbon cycle, feeding on squid on the high seas but defecating when they come to the surface, fertilize the ocean In the process.
Every day the world’s largest migration takes place, where small fish, crustaceans, squid and jellyfish migrate hundreds of meters from the depths to the surface as it gets dark, feeding and then later returning to the depths .
This actively transports carbon to the deep ocean where it is stored for hundreds or thousands of years.
However, we are putting this life support system at risk. Trawling the ever-expanding seabed can release half a billion tons of CO2 each year by disrupting the carbon stores of continental shelves on a global scale.
Two things are therefore clear: we are driving a climate and ecological emergency with our treatment of the ocean, and we must map and protect blue carbon habitats to reverse this emergency.
Only 3% of all key ocean habitats are within fully protected marine protected areas (MPAs) and some key habitats have no representation at all. Carbon uptake and storage by marine ecosystems must now be considered in all aspects of ocean management, from coastal development to fisheries management and shipping.
This means that improving our understanding of ocean ecosystems and their contribution to the carbon cycle is absolutely fundamental to effective climate and biodiversity policy.
In May, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the EU to launch and fund scientific research programs to map carbon-rich marine habitats in EU waters. The resolution calls for this research to be the scientific basis for new strictly protected MPAs, which would be free from destructive fishing activity such as bottom trawling.
EU negotiations are ongoing on how – and if – this will be funded. A strong policy of mapping and protecting blue carbon habitats is a golden opportunity to materialize the European Green Deal, the Paris Agreement and the Marine Strategy Framework DirectiveEurope’s efforts to improve the health of marine ecosystems.
It’s time to change the course of the Anthropocene, where we are wiping out nature and the essential functions it performs to support all life on Earth. Instead, we must ensure a sustainable human society that protects and restores the planet and its ecosystems.
Making blue carbon a key part of the EU’s overall policy to protect the oceans can simultaneously support sustainable fisheries, climate change mitigation and biodiversity.