The Global Ocean Commission recently released a report titled: “From Decline to Recovery: A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean.”
The report identifies five key drivers of decline in the ocean, of which climate change is clearly identified:
It goes on to note:
“The global ocean produces almost half of all the oxygen we breathe and absorbs more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere. More than 90% of the heat trapped in the Earth system by greenhouse gas emissions is stored in the ocean, providing a buffer against the full impacts of climate change on land; however, this is having alarming consequences on ocean life and is perhaps the largest unseen environmental disaster of our time.”
“The ocean has been responsible for the capture and storage of more than half of the carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels and a third of the total produced by humankind… It is estimated that nearly half a billion tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of over 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, are captured and stored by the living components of high seas ecosystems every year. Based on current calculations of the economic cost of additional carbon in the atmosphere, the value of the carbon storage by high seas ecosystems is estimated at US$148 billion a year… By
comparison, the entire global Official Development Aid outlay for 2013 was US$134.8 billion.”
Yet the eight drivers of recovery identified in the report have little to do with preventing climate change directly:
These drivers of recovery only fight climate change tangentially: fish and other marine life help sequester carbon, so protecting marine life is a way to mitigate climate change.
While this is certainly true, there is much more that could be done to use the ocean to buttress climate change. For example, various “enhanced weathering” proposals involve directly lowering lowering atmospheric CO2 levels and ocean acidification in many ways, including by mining rocks that bind to and sequester CO2 when exposed to air and sea water.
The report rightly notes the drawbacks of ocean-based CDR solutions:
“Serious concern has also been expressed about the potential effects of certain geo-engineering schemes aimed at mitigating climate change (such as fertilisation of the ocean with iron or other nutrients), which could adversely impact the marine environment including the high seas”
But not spending some of our resources to investigate those other CDR solutions that have fewer apparent risks could have a big impact on our oceans’ health — and the planet as a whole.