Editor’s Note: Erna Solberg is the prime minister of Norway. Tommy Remengesau Jr. is the president of Palau. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the authors. View more opinion at CNN.
Humanity is exacting a terrible toll on the ocean. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish its Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate later this week. Its overarching message will be that global warming, combined with the negative impacts of numerous other human activities, is devastating our ocean, with alarming declines in fish stocks, the death of our reefs, and sea level rise that could displace hundreds of millions of people. But there is a glimmer of hope – there is now overwhelming scientific evidence that the ocean can be a potent force in stabilizing the climate and building a secure future for everyone.
Ocean-based climate solutions could deliver as much as 21% of the emissions reductions needed to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. These reductions could amount to 11.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e – a standard unit that measures the impact of greenhouse gases in relation to the effects of CO2. This figure is greater than the current emissions from all coal-fired power plants worldwide.
These are the key figures from a new report released today, commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy composed of 14 prime ministers and presidents, which we are proud to chair. It demonstrates in detail, for the first time, how a sustainable ocean economy could play a much bigger role than we previously thought in shrinking our carbon footprint, achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the UN in 2015.
Given the report’s findings, the High Level Panel is launching a Call to Ocean-Climate Action at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York today. The call presents a list of five actions we can take to boost ocean health and mitigate the climate crisis.
The first thing we should do is scale up ocean-based renewable energy (such as offshore wind turbines and new technologies to harness the energy of waves and tides). As an alternative to fossil fuels, this has the potential to cut the most emissions – as much as 5.4 gigatons of CO2e annually by 2050. That’s the equivalent of taking over a billion cars off the road for a year.
We also need to ramp up our ambitions to decarbonize shipping and marine transport; fortunately, many of the solutions to do this already exist. It is also crucial to protect and restore mangroves, seagrasses, salt marshes, and other coastal and marine ecosystems that face a huge threat from over-development. Doing so would prevent significant quantities of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere by increasing nature’s capacity to sequester carbon. Additionally, developing low-carbon sources of protein from the ocean – like seafood, seaweeds and kelp – can provide a healthy and sustainable diet for future populations while easing emissions from land-based food production.
We have the available tools to start implementing these ocean-based climate actions now.
To win the fight against climate change, we need all hands on deck – on land and sea. We are strongly urging other leaders around the world to swiftly implement these actions to secure a healthy, low-carbon and climate-resilient future for our ocean.
Until now, our ocean has played a relatively minor role in national climate plans and strategies. The actions outlined in our new report offer exciting new opportunities to fight the climate crisis. All governments should incorporate ocean-based solutions in their national climate commitments in 2020, and in their actions to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Let’s pull together and seize this opportunity to save our climate by transforming the way we interact with our ocean.
As the leaders of Norway and Palau – two countries where the vitality of the ocean is critical – we understand how the climate crisis affects our citizens, along with the rest of the world. There is nowhere to hide; the impacts of the climate emergency will be felt from the deepest ocean ravines to the highest mountaintops; from the small islands in the middle of the Pacific, to the largest nations on every continent.
The ocean is becoming increasingly hotter and more acidic, which threatens all life on our planet. But this story need not end in tragedy. The ocean can be a vibrant source of inspiration and hope, as well as a powerful partner in the fight to turn the tide against the climate crisis. It is well within our capacity to build a sustainable ocean economy that benefits both nature and humanity – but we must act now before it is too late.