The world's oceans are key to slowing the climate crisis, and this year is critical to guaranteeing their longevity
- Currently, only 2.7% of the world's oceans are in a protected zone.
- But oceans are an important carbon sink — some more effective than rainforests.
- Leaders at Davos said the role of the ocean in combating climate change has been underestimated.
Protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems is a crucial part of combating the climate crisis — and more needs to be done, according to experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
As well as offering a habitat for marine life and providing a vital source of income for coastal communities, the world's oceans also act as a "carbon sink," meaning they have the potential to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit.
Understanding 'blue carbon'
Plants and trees that grow in coastal waters, such as mangroves, kelp, and seagrass, are all forms of "blue carbon," which means they absorb and store carbon. One study found that mangroves can be up to 10 times more efficient at absorbing and storing carbon compared to tropical rainforests. The tree is also a critical buffer against floods for coastal communities.
Anna Gelderd of the Marine Conservation Society told Insider that the ocean absorbs about 25% of man-made carbon emissions and 90% of the heat generated by those emissions. "Without it, the Earth would have warmed much faster and to higher temperatures," she said.
But there's a catch: "Global warming and ocean acidification can reduce the capacity of the ocean to do this, while habitat loss and disturbance of the seabed through activities like bottom trawling can release these long-held stores of carbon, further accelerating global heating," Gelderd said.
"The ocean stores carbon in various ways. One key process is called the 'biological pump.' This is where tiny microorganisms at the surface photosynthesize, drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," Gelderd added. "This forms the basis of the marine food web and as this carbon moves up the food web, some of it sinks to the deep sea in fecal or dead matter."
Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, told audience members at the "Ocean20: Building a Sustainable Blue Economy" event at Davos that the importance of the oceans in conversations around climate and sustainability was starting to be recognized. "Sustainable blue economy is the future of human security on this planet," he said.
Collaboration works to protect oceans
Lots of progress has been made in the last year when it comes to protecting the oceans. The Global Biodiversity Framework, agreed at COP15 in Montreal in December 2022, was a big step forward for oceans. More than 190 countries signed the COP15 agreement to pledge to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030 — the "30X30" pledge, as it's known. Currently, only 2.7% of the ocean is in a protected zone.
Gelderd told Insider, "It was vital that the 30X30 agreement included the ocean; this was by no means a given outcome before the conference began so this was a real win."
"Now attention turns to delivery, with only eight years to go, it's no longer good enough for the inclusion of the ocean to be an afterthought. It must be equally considered alongside terrestrial environments within both biodiversity and climate-focused international agreements," she added.
Thomson said that the pledges made at the COP15 conference on biodiversity — not to be confused with COP27, the conference on the climate crisis — didn't get the global attention that it deserves.
Thomson also highlighted success stories at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi in March 2022 — where nations resolved to address plastic pollution — and World Trade Organization negotiations in June, which saw the signing of an agreement to end harmful fishing subsidies. "2022 confirmed that multilateralism is alive and well," he said.
However, Thomson warned that more work needs to be done. "If we don't achieve those targets, we're going to see a cascade of species extinctions," he said.
Expect more outcomes at the IMPAC5 conference in February in Vancouver, and potentially more news throughout the year. Thomson hopes that the IMPAC5 meeting will "put some teeth" into the Global Biodiversity Framework and find ways to turn the pledges into a reality.
Preservation takes money — and government buy-in
Thomson said that small island developing nations need investment funds to help restore the ocean. "We have to come up with new ways of financing the sustainable blue economy." He added that we need to "help that flow of funds from the north to the south."
Brooke Hadeed, an associate at US-based impact finance and advisory non-profit Social Finance, emphasized the importance of balancing the economic livelihoods of people in coastal communities with the need to protect ocean ecosystems. More than 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihood. Hadeed drew on her own experience growing up in Trinidad and Tobago.
"In small ocean states, you use the ocean for what you can because that's what you have to do to survive," she said, adding that "you need to have a real alternative for that change to take place."
While Hadeed supported international financial support, she said there was a real need for non-governmental organizations and community organizations on the ground. She said a common problem was the funding of short-term projects instead of long-term programs. "You get lots of pilot projects, but then funding dries up," she said.
Runa Khan, founder of the NGO Friendship, said money isn't the only important factor in the ocean-preservation equation.
"Money is a very important factor, provided that you know what to do with that money," Khan said. "For me, the most important responsibility is the government and the citizens of the country."
- Financial inclusion made easy for India’s small merchants with Paytm’s pioneering QR codes and Soundbox
- With Rupay Credit Card on UPI, mobile payments pioneer Paytm deepens its leadership in UPI
- A 24-year-old stock trader who made over $8 million in 2 years shares the 4 indicators he uses as his guides to buy and sell
- Fitch Ratings revises outlook on OYO's long-term issuer ratings to 'positive' from 'stable'
- Mahindra Thar, Tata Nexon and more: SUVs with the longest waiting period
- Centre's fiscal deficit for 2022-23 at 6.4% of GDP: CGA data
- Vedanta Resources pays $400 million debt, borrowings down to $6.4 billion
- Stock markets snap four-day gaining streak on weak global cues