IPCC Report on Climate and Oceans Underscores Need for Urgent Action

EDF makes case for climate-smart fisheries management on release of IPCC special report

September 25, 2019
Tad Segal, tsegal@edf.org, (202) 572-3549

(NEW YORK, Sept. 25, 2019) Urgent global action is needed to create thriving, climate-smart fisheries in response to significant ocean warming detailed in a new United Nations report released today, said Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). 

The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate is the first time the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has examined the impacts from climate change to the world’s ocean and ocean ice, and finds that the rate of ocean warming has doubled in the past three decades with enormous implications for marine life, ecosystems, food, nutrition and economic well-being, EDF said.

“It’s absolutely critical that nations come together now to create climate-smart fisheries for the future that take into account the many impacts that are likely to occur based on the IPCC report,” said Douglas Rader, chief oceans scientist for the EDF Oceans Program. “The integrity of ocean ecosystems translates to impacts on global nutrition, food security and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world. We cannot afford to leave the ocean — and in particular, fisheries — out of the climate change discussion. Our lives depend on it, literally.”

The fishing community is already seeing the impact of climate change as fish are migrating toward the poles and cooler waters, where they can find more habitable ecosystems. In addition, there is growing evidence that fish abundance will also be affected by climate change, which could decrease the amount of fish available in many places. This is particularly troubling for people in the developing tropics who rely heavily on fish for subsistence and income, EDF said.

Warmer ocean waters will have a number of other significant impacts, such as rising seas, changing weather patterns and shifts in entire food chains. Rising temperatures also disrupt carefully balanced ecosystems by changing oxygen levels, acidity and even salinity, with often disastrous consequences for some of the most important ecosystems on the planet, including coral reefs and life-sustaining upwelling systems like the Humboldt Current.

However, research developed by EDF in conjunction with others shows that, to some degree, we can still shape the impacts that climate change will have on global fisheries by reducing emissions while also enhancing resilience through better management.  And progress is being made. In places like Belize, recognition of climate impacts is in part responsible for driving momentum toward creating more sustainable fisheries management in preparation for the future.

“In Belize, we are doing everything we can to protect our fisheries against climate change,” said Ambassador Janine Felson, deputy permanent representative to the U.N. for Belize, which currently chairs the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). “We nearly tripled the size of our no-take marine protected areas (MPAs) to defend our fisheries and the world’s largest barrier reef in conjunction with a proactive fisheries management policy. We made this decision because a healthy reef and vibrant fisheries sector is necessary for Belize to achieve its goals for reducing poverty, improving food security and nutrition and increasing investment for development.”

 While some nations are taking action to create climate-resilient fisheries, much more needs to be done and at a larger scale, EDF said. Improved management within countries and enhanced collaboration across national boundaries will help the world prepare for changes yet to come.

“The good news is that there is hope. In addition to reducing emissions, scientists agree that the single most important action we can take to help the ocean deal with climate change is to create thriving, resilient fisheries,” Rader said. “If you take care of fish, you’re taking care of a world where people and nature can prosper together. That’s because good fisheries management benefits both economic and ecosystem well-being.”

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