Sustaining leadership for climate and ocean action in 2021

The 3rd annual International Ocean Acidification Day of Action is being hosted by OA Alliance member, The Ocean Foundation on January 8th,  representing 8.1 the current pH level of our ocean.

To celebrate, the OA Alliance has issued the following article calling for increased international collaboration and leadership that will help build resilience to the social, economic and cultural vulnerabilities caused by climate and ocean change.

Please visit the “OA Day of Action” website to learn more.

Building Resilience and Sustaining Leadership for Climate and Ocean Action in 2021

By Jessie Turner, Project Manager to the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification

As governments and communities around the world are working to address the health, social justice and economic crisis accelerated by the Covid-19 Pandemic, which has exposed the many vulnerabilities and inequities across our civic lives, it’s more important than ever that climate and ocean action are understood as a critical part of immediate and long-term resiliency building.

2.6 Billion people around the world rely on the ocean for their primary source of protein, fishing and shellfish harvesting for sustenance or ceremonial purposes is critical for tribal, First Nation and indigenous communities across the world and the ocean economy is expected to reach US $3 trillion and employ 40 million people by 2030.

The International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification (OA Alliance) is an international voluntary initiative of governments and non-government members representing nearly 300 million people and 366,414 kilometers of coastline.  At every level, OA Alliance members have continued to lead by raising ambition for climate action and promoting efforts that increase biodiversity, adaptive capacity and resilience.

While the Pandemic has resulted in the delay of many pivotal ocean and climate convenings and benchmarks across 2020 and 2021, governments and non-government actors have banded together to ensure progress and momentum is sustained.

Climate Week NYC 2020 took place from September 21-27, in coordination with the United Nations General Assembly and the City of New York.  The OA Alliance was proud to host two events alongside partners, Ocean ConservancyOcean & Climate Platform and Because the Ocean Initiative.  The events helped advance our shared goals, ensuring that climate and ocean commitments, policies and communications accurately reflect their interdependence.

During the event, “U.S. States Leading on Climate-Ocean Action,” Washington State Governor Jay Inslee spoke about the impacts already being felt along the Pacific Coast of North America, “Climate change and carbon emissions are changing the ocean and the life within it.   Jobs, food security and ocean health are under threat.  Our shellfish aquaculture industry felt the first impacts over a decade ago, when ocean acidification caused the death of juvenile oysters in their hatcheries…with the investment of science we now know that other key species are at risk—which put our region’s economy and identify at risk.”

United States Congressional Leaders Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Representative Suzanne Bonamici (OR) reinforced the role of the U.S. federal government in charting a path forward in 2021 to squarely place climate and ocean action within a broad suite of urgent resiliency building and recovery priorities.   The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act of 2020 was introduced to in the House and addresses everything from climate ready fisheries, deploying blue carbon ecosystems, harnessing renewable offshore energy, priorities for marine and coastal monitoring and piloting adaptation strategies in partnership with fishing and aquaculture communities at the state and local levels.

High-level representatives from the states of California, Maryland, Maine and Hawaii spoke on a panel about the importance of ocean, coastal and bay health to their state’s economies, cultures, and environments.  They described the urgency for taking actions to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, increase ocean related mitigation and adaptation, facilitate the development of clean and renewable energy, and reduce shore and land-based stressors.

All reflected on the toll that the Pandemic has taken on communities across their state, exacerbating existing issues like food insecurity.  Hawaii Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatics Administrator, Brian Neilson, spoke about the importance of coastal fishing.  “The Pandemic added an increased awareness of our ocean resources.  Early on, when shelves where empty at grocery stores…and many people found themselves out of work needing to put food on the table, we were reminded of the importance of sustainable fisheries, knowing that our food security depends on a productive ocean.  [The ocean] serves as our food reserve when global issues arise, like the Pandemic, but it could be the next hurricane or major disruption down the road.”

The international event “Climate-Ocean Impacts to Food Security and Ocean Economies: Assessing Risk and Leveraging International Climate Frameworks,” brought together national, Tribal and regional governments alongside entities like the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FOA) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC.)

Dr. Tarub Bahri, Fishery Resources Officer with the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department described efforts to increase studies and recommendations that support governments and civil society in the face of climate change and subsequent impacts to fishing dependent communities and economies.  She emphasized the need for cross-sectoral cooperation and stakeholder participation that can help inform efforts across UN frameworks like FAO, UNFCCC and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which is kicking off in 2021. “It is important that our work relies on bottom-up input and reflects needs at the local level.”  Additionally noting, “Fish is more than food,” acknowledging the important cultural and social ties to species and ecosystems that should be accounted for in assessments of climate risk and vulnerability.

Tribal governments along the North American West Coast understand this; their livelihoods, culture and identities are strongly tied to the ocean, coasts and rivers.  A short video played at the event highlighted a collaborative effort in Washington State to understand the vulnerability and resilience of Olympic coast tribes to impacts of ocean acidification.  Manila clams, crab, geoduck, salmon, razor clams are all cultural keystone species, meaning they are centrally important to tribal community life.  “Razor clams are a big part of our lifestyle both as a food source and as a source of revenue.  [Harvesting] offers tribal members an opportunity to supplement their income,” said Justine James, Cultural Resource Specialist with the Quinault Indian Nation.   It’s increasingly important that place-based communities are able to help bridge the gap between the science of ocean change and the impacts of ocean change on human wellbeing.

Cameron Diver, Deputy-Director General at Pacific Community—a collaborative of 26 Pacific Island Country and Territory members forming the principal scientific and technical organization in the Pacific Region—described efforts to advance regional science that better informs mitigation and adaptation responses, as well as the importance of international processes and frameworks like the UNFCCC, UN Sustainable Development Goal Agenda, and UN Decade of Ocean Science.   Under the effects of climate change, projections indicate productivity loss of coastal fisheries in the Western Pacific at 10-20% by 2030 and 35% by 2050. Projections also show tuna stocks will be shifting east under a warming ocean over the course of this century, creating issues for food security and economies of Western Pacific Countries. Fish provide 50–90% of animal protein in the diet of coastal communities across a broad spectrum of Pacific islands.

Deputy-Director issued a call to action, “The challenges are huge, but the solutions are there.   When you overlay the Covid-19 Pandemic and its effect on island people and island economies, you can image how much more significant these challenges become.  This is why we need international cooperation and the spirit of multilateralism to support urgent action, not only to ensure that we save our ocean in the Blue Pacific, but for the health of our global ocean and a more sustainable planet.”

As President of COP25, the “Blue Ocean COP,” the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs accelerated multi-lateral government collaboration by bringing governments and civil society leaders to help advance the call for a UNFCCC Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue (Dialogue).  The Dialogue examined how to strengthen ocean mitigation and adaptation within the UNFCCC regime, a global structure for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting those most at risk.

Additionally, non-government actors are working to study, assess and prioritize risks posed by climate and ocean change.   The International Atomic Energy Agency- Ocean Acidification International Coordinating Center, unveiled a new research project, “Evaluating the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Seafood – A Global Approach,” which will help countries identify risks to the most important seafood species in their regions.   The Ocean and Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, alongside insurance company AXA XL, described how insurers can concretely support climate products that help insure, for example, aquaculture industries most risk from ocean acidification.  Moving forward, climate risk assessments and insurance products should be utilized and scaled by private and public sectors.

In 2021, governments at every level, communities and industries are continuing to assess and build resilience to the social, economic and cultural vulnerabilities caused by climate and ocean change.  Internationally, entities are working to scale the science and suite of actions that will support food security and sovereignty while building a sustainable blue economy for the next several decades.

This new year requires a sustained commitment to addressing the multiple and intersecting crises and opportunities facing our global community, because we know that increased urgency for climate and ocean action is directly linked to our shared recovery and our future resilience.

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