#OurOcean’s Climate Struggle and a Blue Solution

It is important for all of us to recognize the intersection between our ocean and our climate. A healthy ocean and its coastal habitats are an essential line of defense against climate change. In fact, our very existence relies on the ocean which is considered by many to be the “lungs of the earth.” The ocean generates half of the oxygen we breathe, and absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide we emit. It regulates our climate and our weather. In recent decades, the ocean has absorbed 90 percent of the excess heat caused by humans while providing food and livelihoods for billions of people. Healthy mangroves and coastal wetlands absorb three to five times more carbon than tropical forests.  

We know that some of the damaging impacts of climate change are already being seen in the ocean. And many worry that without action the ocean’s ability to absorb heat and carbon dioxide will decline. 

The climate community recognizes the challenges facing our ocean and I joined them to participate in the Ocean Action Day at COP22 here in Marrakech, Morocco. 

Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli speaks at the U.S. Center at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco. [State Department Photo]

Without additional action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases and rising temperatures, seas could rise up to two to three feet by the end of this century. Some have suggested that sea levels could even rise by as much as six feet if the Western Antarctic ice sheet collapses. Even if only modest warming occurs, by 2060 more than a billion people are likely to be living in areas exposed to regular coastal flooding and more intense coastal storms.      

We are already seeing the effect of rising ocean temperatures in our fisheries. Global fishing economies and the three billion people around the world who rely on seafood for protein are at risk.

 Bleaching and some dead coral around Jarvis Island, which is part of the U.S. Pacific Remote Marine National Monument. Scientists found 95 percent of the coral is dead in what had been one of the world’s most lush and isolated tropical marine reserve. [NOAA/AP Photo]

Our coral reefs are also showing signs of devastation. The demise of our marine environment must be stopped.

The good news is that through ingenuity and a global effort we can turn this around while adding jobs to our economy at the same time. That is why Secretary Kerry started the Our Ocean movement in 2014. Taking action to address the effects of climate change on the ocean has been one of its major focus points.

At the Our Ocean conference this past September we hosted a panel on climate change and the ocean. During the panel we saw, 14 commitments put forward by governments, the private sector and philanthropy. These commitments represent billions of dollars and significant international support to protect our ocean from the effects of climate change. The Our Ocean movement will continue, the European Union will host the Our Ocean conference in 2017, and then Indonesia and Norway will host in 2018 and 2019.

A strong path forward exists to reduce greenhouse gases, safeguard our ocean resources and add jobs to our economies. It is a big challenge that requires bold thinking and action. But we are up to the task and the private sector is leading the way. In the United States we are rapidly transitioning to a clean energy economy. This positive trend is driving down emissions and is largely due to the market-based forces that are here to stay. The bottom line is we can meet the Paris goals through innovation and low carbon economic development while protecting the environment at the same time. Reducing atmospheric CO2 is critical to protecting the ocean and its ability to safeguard life everywhere and our blue economy holds the promise to help us sustainably achieve this goal.

While we come together during COP22 over the next few days, let’s also join together to #ActOnClimate to protect #OurOcean and our planet for future generations. 

About the Author: Catherine Novelli serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.

Editor's Note: This entry also appeared in the “Climate Change & Environment” Section in our Foggy Bottom publication. Go there for additional climate change stories during COP22. 

For more information:

A marine biologist ties up her skiff on the shoreline of Friendship Long Island, Maine, on May 10, 2016. [AP Photo]
November 14, 2016

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