An orphan problem looking for adoption: responding to ocean acidification utilising existing international institutions

Ocean acidification poses a substantial threat to the ocean, marine wildlife and the goods and services they provide. As a result it presents a substantial regulatory challenge at the international, regional, national and sub-national levels. In the international realms, ocean acidification is not currently addressed by any international instrument or stand-alone agreement, nor does there appear to be any coherent framework for responding to the issue. Despite this, there are a number of international institutions, including treaty bodies and specialised UN agencies that have expressed an interest in ocean acidification and have begun to initiate an array of relevant activities – a small number of which may be considered substantive activities, including rule-making and implementation.

This paper is an effort to explore the existing international frameworks that are applicable to forming a response to ocean acidification in an attempt to prevent worsening acidification and respond to impacts now and into the future. Six policy domains are outlined that together comprise a comprehensive response to ocean acidification. Each of these are then addressed with respect to what institutions are currently doing to respond to acidification and what could be done in the future.

This paper finds that only three international institutions have initiated substantive policy-making in response to ocean acidification with respect to the regulation of carbon capture and storage and the protection of species. While these are important policy interventions, they are simply not enough to prevent worsening ocean acidification or respond to the impacts resulting from increased acidity, even when coupled with policies, such as regulation of carbon dioxide under the UNFCCC that have been implemented without reference to ocean acidification. In order to fill the existing gaps, this paper proposes a series of, as yet un-utilized mechanisms that could be employed to enhance a response to ocean acidification.

Harrould-Kolieb E. R., 2017. An orphan problem looking for adoption: responding to ocean acidification utilising existing international institutions. Biogeosciences Discussions 1-22. Article.

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