A new IPPC report outlines how oceans and marine life are responding to climate change:
The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. Throughout history, oceans and seas have been vital conduits for trade and transportation.
Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future. However, at the current time, there is a continuous deterioration of coastal waters owing to pollution and ocean acidification is having an adversarial effect on the functioning of ecosystems and biodiversity. This is also negatively impacting small scale fisheries.
Marine protected areas need to be effectively managed and well-resourced and regulations need to be put in place to reduce overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification.
Even if all human carbon-releasing activities ceased immediately, the overheated oceans will continue to heat the rest of earth’s already overheated overcrowded ecosystem for decades and possibly centuries.
Facts and figures:
- Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 per cent of the Earth’s water, and represent 99 per cent of the living space on the planet by volume.
- Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
- Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 per cent of global GDP.
- Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions.
- Oceans absorb about 30 per cent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
- Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein
- Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people.
- Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are preventing efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$50 billion less per year than they could.
- Open Ocean sites show current levels of acidity have increased by 26 per cent since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
- Coastal waters are deteriorating due to pollution and eutrophication. Without concerted efforts, coastal eutrophication is expected to increase in 20 percent of large marine ecosystems by 2050.
Eutrophication is excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to run-off from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life.
At the Ocean conference in September 2019, climate experts said:
“Our oceans and frozen spaces have been “taking the heat” for global warming for decades, and warned that without a radical change in human behaviour, hundreds of millions of people could suffer from rising sea levels, frequent natural disasters and food shortages.”
“The ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive”, the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states. “Melting glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea level rise, and coastal extreme events are becoming more severe.”
This temperature rise, which the 195-strong Member State body attributes to greenhouse gas emissions, has resulted in “profound consequences” for people and the planet.
“The world’s ocean and cryosphere have been ‘taking the heat’ from climate change for decades, and consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe,” said Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the IPCC.
In total, 670 million people who live in the world’s high mountain regions and around the same number in low-lying coastal zones “depend directly” on the planet’s oceans and frozen resources, the IPCC notes.
In addition, four million people live permanently in the Arctic region, and small island developing states are home to 65 million people.
In a bid to protect them, their surroundings and livelihoods, the IPCC is calling for the introduction of measures to limit global warming “to the lowest possible level”, in line with the internationally agreed 2015 Paris Agreement.
“If we reduce emissions sharply, (the) consequences for people and their livelihoods will still be challenging, but potentially more manageable for those who are most vulnerable”, said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the high mountains may seem far away to many people. But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways – for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and wellbeing, for culture and identity.”
According to the IPCC report, average sea level rise is now 3.6 millimetres a year.
This is more than twice as fast as during the last century and levels could rise more than a metre by 2100 “if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly”.
The result is likely to be more extreme sea level events that occur during high tides and intense storms. “Indications are that with any degree of additional warming, events that occurred once per century in the past, will occur every year by mid-century in many regions, increasing risks for many low-lying coastal cities and small islands”, the report states.
Without major investments in adaptation, these low-lying zones would be exposed to escalating flood risks, and some island nations “are likely to become uninhabitable”.
Glaciers could shrink 80 per cent, by 2100
Highlighting the importance of coordinated, ambitious and urgent action to mitigate the impact of global warming, the IPCC report also warns that glaciers, snow, ice and permafrost are declining “and will continue to do so”.
In Europe, eastern Africa, the tropical Andes and Indonesia, smaller glaciers are projected to lose more than 80 per cent of their current ice mass by 2100, under worst emission scenarios.
This is likely to increase hazards for people, for example through landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods, in addition to farmers and hydroelectric power producers downstream.
“Changes in water availability will not just affect people in these high mountain regions, but also communities much further downstream”, said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group I.
Sea ice getting thinner every month
On sea ice, the IPCC report underscores that the extent of Arctic ice has declined every month, “and it is getting thinner”.
If global warming can be kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the Arctic ocean would only be ice-free in September once in every 100 years, the study suggests. At two degrees Celsius, however, this would occur up to one year in three.
“Some people living in the Arctic, especially indigenous peoples, have already adjusted their travelling and hunting activities to the seasonality and safety of land, ice and snow conditions, and some coastal communities have planned for relocation,” the report states.
Permafrost ‘warming and thawing’
Turning to permafrost – ground that has been frozen for many years – the IPCC suggests that it is “warming and thawing and widespread permafrost thaw is projected to occur in the 21st Century”.
Even if global warming is limited to well below two degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels, around a quarter of the permafrost down to three to four metres depth, will thaw by 2100.
If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly, there is a potential that around 70 per cent this near-surface permafrost could be lost.
In writing the report, more than 100 authors from 36 countries assessed the latest scientific literature on the ocean and cryosphere, basing their findings on some 7,000 scientific publications.
It will provide input for world leaders gathering in forthcoming climate and environment negotiations, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Chile, in December.
And a Guardian report on this issue:
“Extreme sea level events that used to occur once a century will strike every year on many coasts by 2050, no matter whether climate heating emissions are curbed or not, according to a landmark report by the world’s scientists.
The stark assessment of the climate crisis in the world’s oceans and ice caps concludes that many serious impacts are already inevitable, from more intense storms to melting permafrost and dwindling marine life.
But far worse impacts will hit without urgent action to cut fossil fuel emissions, including eventual sea level rise of more than 4 metres in the worst case, an outcome that would redraw the map of the world and harm billions of people.”
Another WordPress blogger has come up with the idea of sequestering carbon dioxide by planting kelp forests in a deserted part of the South Pacific.
Here is a quote from this site:
“The South Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and South America is at present ocean desert. In fact, it is the world’s largest ocean desert at around 37 million square km. It is far from any landmass and a lack of dust and minerals means there is very little life to be found. Growing a kelp forest ecosystem in this area would transform it from a desert into a teeming mass of life as well as providing Carbon sequestration on a truly massive scale. I suggest that every kelp plant grown in this forest could be free-floating and attached to its own simple bamboo buoy, ( The Peel Technique ).
How would the approach work?. Vast forests of both bamboo and kelp will be required. Land based bamboo plantations would be used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, produce oxygen and restore degraded lands. The bamboo plantations would also supply the kelp buoy production factories with the bamboo that they require. The bamboo buoys would be used to assist young kelp plants to float in deep ocean waters. The buoys would also carry the minerals that the growing kelp plants require to survive.”
And from the UK Government’s website:
While attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, International Environment Minister, Zac Goldsmith, announced on 24th September that ten countries have signed up to a UK-led initiative to safeguard the world’s ocean and its wildlife. The initiative was endorsed by the Prime Minister, also at the United Nations General Assembly, and was welcomed by the environmental organisation Greenpeace UK.
The announcement received positive coverage on several international outlets: Oceanographic, Business Leader, Energy Live News, Brits in Kenya, and Seychelles State House Blog, as well as on social media, including a tweet from the Finnish Minister of Environment, Krista Mikkonen, who said: “We must live up to our promise of halting the loss of #biodiversity.”
The 30by30 initiative, which is pushing for at least 30 per cent of the global ocean to be protected in Marine Protected Areas by 2030, has been supported by 10 countries including:
- Costa Rica
- Palau, and
Further details at: