Rio+20 side event: building marine ecosystem resilience to ocean acidification

Organizing partners

Pacific Small Island Developing States at the United Nations in New York (namely Fiji, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) together with Earthjustice.


The Pacific Small Island Developing States in partnership with Earthjustice will host a side event on “Building Marine Ecosystem Resilience to Ocean Acidification” during the Rio+20 final PrepComm. A significant body of science and experience shows that reducing pollution, overfishing, and other stressors builds resilience to ocean acidification in sensitive species and ecosystems, including coral reefs, critical for marine biodiversity, global food security and sustainable livelihoods and development in the Pacific and around the world. Building resilience is fundamental to the three pillars of sustainable development on which the Pacific depends. Legal, policy, and financial solutions will be examined with special attention given to successful efforts to build marine ecosystem resilience in the Small Island Developing States.

Detailed programme

The problem of ocean acidification is frequently marginalized in policy debates about the need to reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions responsible for climate change, yet it is potentially one of the most calamitous consequences of the pollution, affecting all three pillars of sustainable development. This side event will bring together government leaders as well as representatives from civil society, academia, the media and other interested stakeholders to discuss the threats posed by ocean acidification and its relationship to other challenges, such as overfishing, coral bleaching and pollution. Potential for legal, policy, and financial solutions will also be examined with special attention given to marine protection success stories. The conversation will focus on successful efforts to build marine ecosystem resilience in Small Island Developing States.

Ocean acidification poses an ominous environmental danger to the health of oceans and at least a billion people around the world who depend on it for their food and livelihoods, both in social and economic terms. Scientists have already traced a decline in coral reefs in tropical regions as well as pteropods, which form the foundation of the marine food web, to the effects of acidification — a trend that could have grave consequences for numerous other fish species.

An increasing body of evidence shows that limiting pollution, overfishing, and other stresses can help build resilience to ocean acidification in sensitive species and habitats. With CO2 emissions certain to keep rising, and pollution already in the atmosphere projected to intensify ocean acidification, it is clear steps must immediately be taken to increase the resilience of vulnerable species and ecosystems alongside the long-term imperative to reduce CO2 emissions at their source.

The side event will present insight into the science, social, economic and environmental impacts, policy options, and success stories related to managing ocean acidification. Within the purview of Rio+20 and the international community, these actions include enhancing implementation of existing international commitments and filling gaps in the international institutional and legal framework, including the following:

• Enhancing relevant Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements for Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) .
• Developing and strengthening regional protocols and instruments on Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) & Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).
• Developing and strengthening regional protocols or instruments on controlling Land-based Sources of Pollution.
• Significantly increasing the area of critical ecosystems within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) both within and beyond areas of national jurisdiction, with a focus on ecosystems that are sensitive to ocean acidification such as coral reefs.
• Reducing and eliminating destructive fishing practices and over-fishing.
• Enhancing capacity building and transfer technology to enable developing nations, particularly Small Island Developing States, to implement international obligations within the context of actions on ocean acidification and climate change and other relevant processes.
• Enhancing global monitoring of and multinational research cooperation on ocean acidification.


Ambassador Marlene Moses, Nauru, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States
Dr. Robert Dunbar, co-director of Stanford University Center for Ocean Solutions and Director of the Earth Systems Program
Dr. Andreas Andersson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Trip Van Noppen, President, Earthjustice

To be confirmed/tentative:
Ambassador Robert Aisi, Papua New Guinea, Chair of the Pacific Small Island Developing States
Dr. Carol Turley, UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, Executive Board, European Project on Ocean Acidification
Pacific oceans scientist or representative from the Parties to the Nauru Agreement or the Secretariat of the Pacific Commission – to be determined
Representative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


  • Lead-organizer: Micronesia, Federated States of
  • 11:00 – 12:30
  • Date: 20 Jun 2012
  • Room: P3-B

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