CEO Note: World leaders must turn to the oceans to help prevent climate catastrophe | Oceana
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September 27, 2023

CEO Note: World leaders must turn to the oceans to help prevent climate catastrophe


For decades, our oceans have protected us from the worst impacts of man-made climate change by absorbing much of the heat produced by the fossil fuel industry’s relentless expansion.

But the oceans can only take so much and without immediate action we will continue to see more intense and frequent weather events like hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves. Sea level rise will likely displace millions of people. Coral reefs could see catastrophic die-offs by 2050. Ocean acidification from carbon pollution is slowly destroying countless shell-building organisms vital to the marine food web.  

There’s no doubt the climate crisis is real. It’s happening now, and it’s affecting us all.

While we face dire problems, we are not without solutions. According to a new analysis commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, ocean-based action can deliver nearly half (up to 47%) the emissions reductions needed by 2050 to keep the planet from warming a catastrophic 2 degrees Celsius (or up to 35% of the emissions reductions needed to keep warming to 1.5°C)

The report includes updated data from a recent Oceana analysis that found stopping the expansion of offshore oil and gas extraction would be a major powerhouse in combating the climate crisis. Combined with the phasedown of existing production driven by reduced fossil fuel demand as clean energy comes online, it would deliver up to 18% of the annual greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to stay under a 2°C rise (or up to 14% under the 1.5°C scenario), more than any other ready to implement ocean-based solution. That reduction is equivalent to the annual emissions we would save by removing more than 1 billion cars from the road. 

Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous. It pollutes our climate throughout the entire process — from extraction below the seafloor; through emissions during intensive processing, refining, and transporting; and, most significantly, from the burning of the fuel itself. Moreover, offshore drilling threatens the lives and livelihoods of those who rely on a clean, healthy ocean.

This new report makes it even clearer: we must stop selling our oceans to the highest bidder and permanently end new offshore drilling. Not only will stopping this expansion reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, it will also further protect our oceans from oil spills that wreak havoc on marine life, coastal ecosystems, and economies. 

In addition to stopping new offshore drilling, the report provides a roadmap for other important ocean-based climate solutions, including:

  • protecting marine habitats;
  • rebuilding fisheries and improving fishing efficiency;
  • replacing fossil fuel power with offshore renewables;
  • decarbonizing ocean-based tourism; and
  • improving shipping efficiency.

Oceana is urging world leaders to immediately address the climate crisis. In the United States, Oceana is calling on President Biden to end new leasing for offshore drilling. In the United Kingdom, Oceana is encouraging all political parties to commit to ending new offshore oil and gas development. And in Belize, Oceana is campaigning to ensure that the country’s citizens get the right to decide if the existing offshore oil moratorium should ever be lifted. 

Since its beginning, life has been inextricably tied to the ocean. But business as usual will lead to an ocean that will no longer be able to sustain the diversity of life as we know it. With bold and forceful action, world leaders can not only protect the seas, but harness them to prevent climate catastrophe. To secure a sustainable and resilient future, we must turn to the oceans.