14.06.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

No science equals no sustainability

The focus was on climate and environmental changes this Tuesday morning in Rio de Janeiro, where policy-makers and the scientific community are linking science and policy in preparation for Rio+20. A wide range of perspectives on the challenges of sustainability in the context of environmental change were discussed, as well as the possibilities for responding to them in a sustainable manner.

Luis Valdés of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC) presented the ocean perspective. He stressed that there are so many pressures on the ocean that it is difficult to disentangle them from the effects of climate change.

The ocean has long been recognized as a major component of the global climate system and its interaction with the atmosphere – for instance in so-called El Niño/La Niña events – has a major impact on weather patterns and the natural variability of our climate. The ocean also absorbs almost 25% of the CO2 added to the atmosphere from human activities each year, greatly reducing the impact of this greenhouse gas on the climate, while becoming more acidic in the process. Ocean acidification is a relatively new field of study. Despite advances in understanding the impacts of elevated CO2 concentrations on a wide range of marine organisms, we are still unable to make meaningful projections of impacts on marine ecosystems and fisheries as a whole, or to identify thresholds beyond which marine ecosystems may not recover.

This is only one of the many ways in which the world’s ocean has been impacted and is suffering from the effects of human activities. Futher collaborative research is needed to fully understand and evaluate the impacts of global change on the world’s ocean.

In order to safeguard the earth’s life support systems to ensure the well being of civilizations, science must be the 4th pillar of sustainable development. ‘No science equals no sustainability’, concluded Luis Valdés.

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