Implement Urgent Actions to Mitigate and Adapt to Ocean Acidification

Rationale

© Dmitry Klimenko
UNESCO and climate change: a long-term concern

Currently the ocean absorbs more than 26% of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere from human activities resulting in increased acidity (lowered pH) of the ocean. This increased acidity has a number of effects on organisms and ecosystems, the most significant being a lowering in the concentration/availability of carbonate ion for plankton and shelled species that fix calcium carbonate. Once a pH ‘threshold’ is reached for a given organism, it can no longer fix calcium carbonate in its shells and is threatened with local extinction. These calcium carbonate organisms, primarily phytoplankton and zooplankton and also some molluscs, serve as the base of much of the marine food chain across all ecosystem types, underscoring the potential impact of acidification on entire ecosystems. Marine farming of molluscs can also be affected.

This ‘other CO2 problem’ has only emerged within the last decade and more research is needed to develop meaningful projections of its impacts on marine ecosystems and fisheries and to identify thresholds beyond which marine ecosystems may not be able to recover.

In addition to greater research, action is required to reduce and reverse the impacts of acidification. Immediate and coordinated action by the international scientific community and policymakers is required in order to urgently mitigate this emerging issue – this was encompassed in the Monaco Declaration in 2008 but has not yet been implemented. While this proposal currently addresses ocean acidification only, the issue of carbon-storage in sub-sea geological formations will also need addressing.

Main objectives of the Proposal

1. Launch a global inter-disciplinary program on ocean acidification risk assessment, to provide global, regional, and national forecasts, including socio-economic impacts, for use by decision makers. Include development of linkages between economists and scientists to evaluate the socioeconomic impacts. Identify ‘point of no return’ tipping points where acidification could lead to marine ecosystem collapse in selected regions most prone to acidification.

2. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations must consider not only the effect of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the radiation balance of Earth but the negative impact on ocean chemistry and ecosystems. Results of above ‘tipping point’ analyses should inform the setting of aggressive targets and schedules for GHG reduction through shifts to low carbon energy production.

3. Promote research and build capacity to better understand the impacts of Ocean Acidification on marine ecosystems.

Expected results

Agreement by scientists, policy makers and industry will increase the likelihood of implementation of the Monaco Declaration on Ocean Acidification and reverse impacts of acidification. High level commitment to take urgent action on climate change mitigation to avoid approaching or reaching ocean acidification ‘tipping points’.

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