More than two-thirds of the world is covered in oceans, so it’s no surprise they are often at the forefront of discussions of the climate crisis. From melting Arctic ice and sea-level rise to bleaching coral reefs and more and more powerful tropical storms, the world’s oceans are experiencing some of the most intense and visible impacts of the climate crisis today.
But because images of glaciers calving or the Atlantic Ocean lapping down the streets of Miami are so powerful, and visually tell the story of the crisis so well, we often forget something else: our oceans have an incredible role to play in solving the climate crisis too.
Through the development and use of renewable energy, more-sustainable transportation, and habitat restoration, our world’s ocean can be a valuable ally in battling the climate crisis.
Excess greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere are making our ocean waters warmer, more acidic, less able to hold oxygen, and less productive. This leads to any number of impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere, from more powerful storms slamming coastlines and challenges for global trade to less productive fisheries and even threats to national security.
The ocean is thus often thought of exclusively as a victim of climate change rather than a key player in the movement for solutions.
We’ve been writing its obituary for decades when we should have been hosting a pep rally instead. Because there is overwhelming scientific evidence that the ocean can be a potent force in stabilizing the climate and helping build a secure future for everyone.
Our oceans have played a largely minor role in national climate plans and strategies. Yet, ocean-based climate solutions could deliver as much as 21 percent of the emissions reductions needed to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.
And as Peter Thomson, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for the ocean, says, “The world already has the technologies it needs to put ocean-based climate solutions into motion.”
Here are three doable solutions, we could get to work on right now:
- Offshore wind power benefits from harder and more consistent ocean winds, and in the United States has the potential to contribute more than 7,000 terawatt hours per year of clean energy—which is roughly double the amount of electricity used in the United States in 2014.
- The motion of waves and currents in the ocean can provide marine hydrokinetic (MHK) energy.
- The use of ocean-based renewable energy could save up to an estimated 5.4 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050. That is the equivalent to taking over a billion cars off the road.
- Most of the worlds global trade is done via the sea and currently accounts for 3 percent global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Those emissions could be reduced by more than 75 percent by using a combination of currently available technologies. Doing so would be roughly equivalent to cutting all of Germany’s carbon emissions.
- Restoring coastal habitats such as mangroves, tidal wetlands, and kelp forests — which sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, sometimes at rates up to four times higher than terrestrial forests — helps protect against flooding and erosion, offsetting some the impacts of climate-exacerbated extreme weather.
- Coastal wetland restoration can also help us mitigate emissions from a particularly powerful greenhouse gas: methane.
“For far too long the ocean has not seriously been on the radar screen of the climate change policy community,” said Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “It needs to be squarely on the radar screen. These options are going to give us some powerful new tools in the toolbox.”
To win the fight against climate change, we need all hands on deck — on land and sea.
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