It’s time to get serious about CO2

It’s time to get serious about CO2, for the ocean’s sake and for ours.

Message from Mr Kosi Latu, Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), this World Environment Day

“As we commemorate World Environment Day, connecting with nature, we focus our periscope on our Ocean. We must remember that our actions affect the ocean, even if we don’t live by the beach or eat fish. Reducing our carbon dioxide emissions will support ocean health – and the alternative is grim.

The carbon conversation is nothing new. Whether you believe in climate change or not, we can all agree that when we drive cars, or buy new things in shiny plastic packaging, or go for a run, we produce CO2.

Minimising and addressing ocean acidification is of the objectives under Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Under Water. The global community has come together at the first United Nations Ocean Conference in New York this week (5 – 9 June, 2017) to look for solutions.

If we just talk about the “extra” CO2 that we humans generate with our industrial processes and intensive agriculture, about a third of that extra CO2 ends up in the ocean. When it enters the seawater dissolves making it more acidic.

The pH, or acidity level of the ocean has changed, by about 30% since before the Industrial era, a rate of change faster than anything we have seen in the past 300 million years – a process known as ocean acidification. This process affects a wide variety of marine animals including some of the seafood we eat. New research shows that the protein content of edible whelks, (edible sea snails) drops in conditions similar to those expected with climate change.

For communities who rely directly on ocean resources for the majority of their livelihoods, these changes are crucial. In the Pacific region, the island Member countries of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) consider ocean acidification and climate change to be priority challenges to their economies and way of life.

We need the rest of the world to pay attention, too. Our ocean connects us all. We must stand together as a global community to make the right choices for our ocean.

We need the global ocean resources and services we are used to receiving, and that means we need to support ocean health. Let’s get serious about controlling the amount of carbon dioxide that goes into our atmosphere and ocean.

SPREP is working to help Pacific island communities address these challenges through the New Zealand-Pacific Partnership on Ocean Acidification. Growing this Pacific Partnership is one of our aims for the UN Ocean Conference this week with the “Pacific Partnership on Ocean Acidification” now registered in the UN Ocean Conference Registry of Voluntary Commitments.

Despite the withdrawal of the USA from the Paris climate agreement, many countries and countless individuals are ready to act. Our job at regional agencies like SPREP is to assist decision-makers navigate the options available to them, for effective sustainable environmental management.

In traditional development, increased purchasing power and infrastructure result in increased carbon emissions. We want the kind of development that decreases not increases, our reliance on fossil fuels. Sustainable development should make it easier for more people to make low-carbon choices.

Ocean acidification is a global issue, but there are things we can do on a local and national scale to help our ecosystems handle threats like ocean acidification.

Nutrient pollution, or eutrophication, makes acidification worse. This is because the extra nutrients end up causing more respiration, increasing the CO2 in the water while at the same time drawing down the dissolved oxygen levels.

Reducing nutrient pollution through the use of smart agricultural practices and restoring wetlands will increase ecosystem resilience to global threats like acidification, on top of the many other ecosystem benefits. Preserving and restoring forests and wetland spaces is another way to help slow down ocean acidification and build ecosystem resilience.

We need to partner across sectors, across industries, and across national boundaries to support ocean health and create shared benefits. Getting serious about carbon dioxide emissions also means getting serious about agriculture, how we use our land and what we eat. It also means getting serious about what we buy, how much of it we purchase, and how we dispose of any resulting waste.

As the conversation about sustainable environmental management proceeds, while connecting with nature, it is important to remember that good environmental management is not just for the environment: it’s for all of us.”

Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Scoop, 5 June 2017. Press release.

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