Recording from the UN Oceans Conference Partnership Dialogue 3 – Minimizing and Addressing Ocean Acidification (text and video)

In the afternoon, the Conference held a partnership dialogue on “Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification”. Moderated by Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization, it featured presentations by Cardinal Peter Turkson, Head of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, Holy See; Rahanna Juman, Deputy Director, Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago; David Osborn, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Environment Laboratories; and Carol Turley, Senior Scientist, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, United Kingdom. Prince Albert II of Monaco and Agostinho Mondlane, Minister of the Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries, Mozambique, co-chaired the meeting.

View the recording of the session here:

Prince ALBERT II of Monaco said acidification, while not a well-known phenomenon, had severe consequences. Target 14.3 had established a framework for collective action to combat its affects, notably by strengthening scientific cooperation. Through the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre had been established in Monaco, and action must focus on better understanding, adaptation and prevention. Noting that oceans absorbed 30 per cent of carbon dioxide and 80 per cent of excess heat, he said that at that pace oceans would no longer be able to act as climate regulators. Revenue loss related to sustainable tourism in coastal areas could be affected and 90 per cent of coral reefs could be threatened with extinction by 2030. Understanding acidification required global and local approaches to decision-making. On adaptation, he advocated working with local communities to devise solutions that strengthened the resilience of ecosystems. Calling prevention the most complex challenge, he said limiting greenhouse gas emissions towards a carbon-free economy should be a common goal, as the effects of such efforts on acidification would be a slow process. Indeed, climate change and acidification must be fought holistically. An inventory of good mitigation and adaptation practices would foster better responses to the challenges ahead.

Mr. MONDLANE, noting that 40 per cent of Mozambique’s territory lay within a marine environment, said his country had one of the world’s longest coastlines of 2,700 kilometres inhabited by 26 million people and hosting more than 70 per cent of the nation’s cities. Marine fisheries provided livelihoods for most coastal communities. That scenario highlighted the importance of oceans to Mozambique’s economy, he said, underscoring the need to maintain such resources so they could continue to serve society. Increased acidification, with its adverse impacts on marine resources, had brought about a huge awakening, as it affected people’s survival. “The solutions must come from us,” he said, noting that in addressing the exploitation of marine resources in Goal 14.6, Mozambique was keen to develop such marine cultures as mussels, bivalves and prawns to provide alternative livelihoods. The Government was finalizing a national action plan for aqua-culture, the implementation of which hinged on the health of the ocean. Acidification trends threatened those efforts, and the lack of action to address that phenomenon would lead to a failure to achieve objective Goal 14.6, rendering Mozambique unable to feed its people.

Mr. TAALAS said ocean acidification, while concentrated in tropical zones, was emerging at high latitudes, while concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were at record-breaking levels. “We are not moving in the right direction” in implementing the Paris Agreement, he said. Stressing the importance of strengthened monitoring systems, he said successful implementation of the Agreement could stabilize greenhouse gas trends by 2060.

Ms. TURLEY said carbon dioxide emissions were a global issue that was being experienced very locally. While their economic impacts remained uncertain, they were indeed happening, she said, citing an 80 per cent mortality rate at oyster hatcheries in the Pacific North-West of the United States and costly efforts to respond to that development. Going forward, she said, the most important option was to mitigate the impact of acidification by reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, adopting sustainable practices and using infrastructure to protect ecosystems. Even if the Paris Agreement targets were fulfilled, she added, the impact would be there and the risks would be quite high.

Mr. OSBORN likened the oceans to a sophisticated Swiss watch that one never really owned, but passed along for future generations. Using radio isotopes and sensitive monitoring equipment, it was possible to monitor ocean acidification and even to measure past levels of acidity through the use of a pH proxy. He described a new project to collate data and encourage the training of experts in techniques for monitoring acidification at the local level. Science had revealed that changes due to acidification were not linear, but varied in terms of time and space, but the overall trend was a significant concern, with coral reefs being particularly susceptible. Some species would do better than others, but as the oceans — like a Swiss watch — was a finely tuned system, the collapse of one or two or three species would have a domino effect. He went on to emphasize the need to bridge a gap between science and policy, noting that international legal regimes currently did not address acidification.

Ms. JUMAN said coral reefs were responsible for one quarter of total fish catches in developing countries. They protected shorelines, coastal dwellings, land and beaches. Small island developing States would have fewer livelihoods if their reefs were damaged. At least 60 per cent of global coral reefs were already degraded, with tropical and subtropical corals expected to be the worst affected. More broadly, internationally-funded climate change projects addressed sea-level rise and ecosystem-based adaptation, with acidification considered only in the context of such issues as food security, rather than prioritized. Noting that donors had provided $55.5 billion to Caribbean and Pacific small island developing States between 1995 and 2015, she said those countries had also been able to leverage $460 million from the Green Climate Fund. The main challenges were around competition for aid, limited local human resource capacity, duplication of donor efforts, limited private-sector involvement and changing money flow and priorities. As small island developing States had limited ability to monitor the impacts of acidification, she recommended a number of measures. Those included enhancing research capacity through partnerships; developing indicators for Goal 14.3; rehabilitating coastal blue carbon ecosystems, like mangroves, that sequestered carbon dioxide; and advocating for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by meeting international obligations, targeting support for alternative livelihoods and increasing awareness about the benefits.

Mr. TURKSON underscored the importance of oceans and seas, providing food and raw materials, as well as essential environmental benefits such as air purification, a global carbon cycle, waste management, and maintenance of the food chains and habitats that were critical to life on Earth. Pope Francis regularly called for ecological citizenship, from a belief in a moral imperative to care for the environment, a gift entrusted to the current generation for stewardship. He had repeatedly affirmed that intergenerational solidarity was not optional, but rather, a question of justice. There was an obligation to conserve — or care — a word that invited people to be compassionate, sympathetic and to understand the state of the environment. Efforts to establish an effective regulatory framework to safeguard ocean health were often blocked by those profiting from marine resources and intent on maintaining their advantages, to the detriment of the poor. The Pope also advocated the principle of integral ecology, which captured the belief that “everything belongs together”. The environment was not regarded as something separate from ourselves. “We are part of it,” and thus, a crisis of environment was one for humanity. On the pontiff’s third principle — an integrated approach in seeking solutions to global problems — he said ethical considerations must be integrated into approaches to the environment. Technical solutions were never enough. “Leaving no one behind” was a call to solidarity that should spur everyone on to achieve the Goals, he said, stressing that the fourth principle centred on the role of education, all the more necessary where proper waste disposal was either scarce or non-existent, and the fifth principle on the need to collaborate at all levels to arrive at sustainable solutions.

ENELE SOSENE SOPOAGA, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, said studies on the impact of ocean acidification on his country were urgently needed. Everyone had a responsibility to address ocean acidification by dramatically reducing carbon dioxide output, he said, calling upon all nations to ratify the Paris Agreement and to urgently reduce their reliance of fossil fuels. He went on to propose a halt to the trade in sea cucumbers, which through their natural digestive systems made water more alkaline, mitigating the effects of acidification at a local level. Action under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora might be required in that regard, he said.

BJÖRT ÓLAFSDÓTTIR, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources of Iceland, said that for an island State like hers, where sustainable fisheries were a backbone of society, acidification was very alarming. She expressed deep disappointment at the decision by the United States to pull out of the Paris Agreement, but celebrated the fact that some American states and cities would fulfil its goals. Noting that Iceland produced all of its energy from renewable sources, she said its efforts would further contribute to reducing acidification.

The representative of Palau said nutrient-poor ocean deserts had increased 15 per cent since the 1980s. Urgent steps were needed to boost ecosystem resilience and protect their capacity to provide vital goods and services. One of the most cost-effective strategies in that regard was the creation of marine protected areas.

The representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the nexus between climate change and the ocean presented a challenge in terms of population displacement. According to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre, 22.5 million people had been displaced annually since 2008 due to adverse climate change. In 2016 alone, 24.2 million people had been displaced, most of whom from ocean coastal areas, small island developing States or areas or regions affected by “climate change fault lines”, such as the El Niño phenomenon. Some 40 million people were at risk for displacement, including 15 million living in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta of Bangladesh, due to sea-level rise. He advocated a whole-of-Government approach to solutions.

The representative of Peace Boat, noting that he was from Japan, described the “Eco-ship” project to design the most environmentally green ship using solar and wind power, as well as a closed-loop water system. A Finland shipyard had agreed to build the vessel. Efforts by the maritime industry were not enough; strong will must be generated to protect the oceans.

The representative of the International Chamber of Shipping said the association represented 80 per cent of the world’s merchant ships. Noting that shipping was responsible for 2.2 per cent of annual man-made carbon dioxide emissions, which contributed to acidification, he said Chamber members had reduced those emissions between 2008 and 2012, despite increased maritime trade. There was an incorrect perception that shipping might have escaped the Paris Agreement. However, in three weeks, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) would unveil a strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from ships to match the ambition of the Paris accord. Global shipping would propose that IMO agree to keep total carbon dioxide emissions below 2008 levels, setting that year as the peak year for emissions, and then progressively cutting annual emissions by a percentage to be agreed by IMO member States by 2050. He clarified that it was not proposing a binding cap on such emissions.

The representative of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification said the group included the United States states of California, Oregon and Washington. It should not be confused with the United States Climate Alliance, formed recently in response to United States President’s decision to pull out of the Paris accord. The International Alliance included 12 states, along with Puerto Rico, representing 36 per cent of the United States. Its nearly 40 members had pledged to develop ocean acidification action plans to assist in the implementation of Goal 14.3. They sought to understand acidification, take actions against it, protect coasts from its impacts and build support for addressing that problem. It aimed to increase its membership to 60 members by June 2018 and support the development of action plans.

The representative of the United States, citing her role as co-chair of the Ocean Acidification Observing Network, drew attention to voluntary commitment 16542 and her group’s close work with international and intergovernmental partners, including the Ocean Foundation, the University of Gothenburg, the University of Washington, as well as IAEA and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The group also had launched a mentorship programme, pairing scientists with researchers to new ocean acidification work.

The representative of Colombia said her country was considered one of the top five with the most marine diversity, which in turn, supported local populations. She underscored the need for gathering scientific information at the local level, including for ecosystem responses and socioeconomic impacts.

Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Tuvalu, Iceland, Palau, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Finland, France, Argentina and Iran, as well as speakers from the European Investment Bank, Vision Tool, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Scientific Centre of Monaco and the Ocean Foundation.

United Nations, 6 June 2017.  Text and video recording.

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