April 13, 2022
CEO Note: What does ocean conservation have to do with climate change?
BY: Andy Sharpless
As the fossil fuel industry’s pollution drives us closer to a global climate catastrophe, you may be wondering whether ocean conservation is still a worthwhile cause when other — seemingly larger — issues abound. The reality is that the two conservation agendas require each other. As our newest, climate-themed issue of Oceana Magazine outlines, ocean conservation is essential to averting this climate crisis.
A panel of experts, commissioned by the 14 heads of state that comprised The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, concluded that ocean solutions can provide one-fifth of the carbon reduction the world needs to keep temperatures from rising more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius). Ocean conservation’s contribution is also vividly conveyed by these facts:
- Our campaign to stop new offshore oil and gas leasing in U.S. waters is ensuring that 19 billion tons of greenhouse gases stay locked in the ground — the equivalent of taking every car in the U.S. off the road for 15 years (see “Where they drill, they spill” on page 18 of the Oceana Magazine PDF).
- By rebuilding abundant ocean fisheries, we allow a hungry planet to substitute a climate-smart protein, wild seafood, for a primary driver of climate change, livestock. Globally, livestock production is responsible for nearly 15% of climate-changing emissions. A fully abundant and well-managed ocean can provide a billion people a daily seafood meal, forever.
- When we and our allies stop the exponential growth in ocean plastic pollution, we’ll stop the rapidly growing releases of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases by the fossil fuel polluters. The plastic industry’s carbon footprint, in just the U.S., is expected to exceed that of coal-fired power plants by 2030. Globally, the plastic industry is responsible for 4.5% of greenhouse gas pollution (read “The plastic to pollutant pipeline,” starting on page 12 of the Oceana Magazine PDF, to learn more).
- By preventing coastal over- development, we can protect habitats that are vital to climate resiliency and mitigation. In the Philippines, for example, we are campaigning to protect mangrove forests from clear-cutting. Essential as fishery nurseries, mangroves are hugely effective at sequestering carbon, capturing roughly four times as much carbon per hectare as rainforests. Protecting habitat from bottom trawling ensures that carbon-capturing ecosystems, such as seagrasses, can continue to thrive. Oceana and our allies have protected nearly 4 million square miles (more than 10 million square kilometers) from bottom trawling, and we win more protections every year.
- If the World Trade Organization were finally to act against subsidized overfishing by the world’s distant-water fleets, $7.8 billion in fuel subsidies would end. It’s astonishing that this body continues to allow its member states to pay their fishing fleets to travel to other countries’ waters, deplete their oceans, AND ALSO accelerate catastrophic climate change. The five countries with the largest distant-water fleets — China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Spain — are responsible for 90% of the global distant-water fishing effort.
The fossil fuel industry is responsible for the worst global pollution catastrophe in history while convincing many that this crisis is everyone’s fault. But the industry’s responsibility — guilt is not too strong a word — becomes glaringly apparent when citizens organize to demand laws that convert the world’s energy economy to a sustainable one. When citizens do that, anywhere in the world, the oil states and the international fossil fuel polluters block action in the public interest. The climate polluters run commercials claiming they are leading the way to a green future, but in key policy-making discussions, they thwart people’s desire to protect and conserve our beautiful planet.
As has been widely noted, the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland failed to endorse measures sufficient to save the planet from extreme storms, fires, floods, extinctions, and calamitous climate-driven migrations. However, they did, in a tragic irony, validate the destructive policy-blocking power of the carbon polluters. One of the last elements to be resolved in through-the-night negotiations over the precise terms of the final agreement was whether it would, for the FIRST time in 26 years of COP gatherings, include the words “fossil fuels.”
In closing, please remember that ocean conservation and climate conservation are sister and brother. Rescuing the planet from climate change means saving the oceans from overfishing, ocean pollution, and illegal activity. While we join the billions of people who ask the international community to urgently mobilize behind global carbon reduction policies, we are also winning national-level policy outcomes that rebuild ocean abundance and mitigate the threat of catastrophic climate change. Please take a moment to enjoy the latest reports on our policy progress in our latest issue of Oceana Magazine.