Ocean-based actions can help curb climate change impacts, new international guidance shows

Guide highlights fisheries among ways to increase ambition and resilience

January 19, 2021
Tad Segal, (202) 572-3549

(WASHINGTON – Jan. 19, 2021) A new guide released today outlines for countries the best ways ocean-based action can curb greenhouse gas emissions and lead to better adaptation to the increasing effects of climate change.

The guide, “Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions: Opportunities for Ocean-Based Climate Action,” was developed by eight leading, international conservation organizations — including Environmental Defense Fund — and presents a set of options for ocean-based climate mitigation and adaptation efforts that countries can use to enhance their nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement.

Tim Fitzgerald, senior director of Ocean Climate Strategies for EDF, and Gerald Miles, vice president of Government Partnerships for EDF, are co-authors of the guide and contributed to the section on oceanic and coastal fisheries. Other sections are coastal and marine ecosystems, marine transport and ocean-based renewable energy.

“The ocean actions and investment that flow from this guidance are desperately needed to implement NDCs, increase their ambition and help reshape national commitments,” said Miles.

“Fishermen around the world will tell you the effects of climate change are already here, with some fish moving toward cooler waters and others becoming more or less abundant,” said Fitzgerald.

These and other changes pose significant risks to communities that depend on fishing for food and livelihoods, especially those in Small Island Developing States.

“Countries can achieve more climate-resilient fisheries and fishing communities by incorporating climate information into their fisheries science and management, setting climate-appropriate fishing limits, ending overfishing and prioritizing marine ecosystem health,” Fitzgerald added.

A recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change detailed how the ocean is taking the heat from climate change, with severe consequences for people and nature. As the ocean absorbs more heat and carbon dioxide, it is not only getting warmer, but also more acidic and less productive. Scientists and policymakers alike are increasingly turning to the ocean as a source of solutions to confronting the climate crisis.

Ocean-based mitigation options to reduce emissions or sequester and store carbon offer significant contributions to global efforts to limit the impacts of climate change. In 2011, fisheries generated at least 179 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or 4% of emissions from global food production. The use of fossil fuels in fishing vessels is a main source of emissions, with refrigeration, waste and transport also significant contributors. The guide presents several options for making fishing more fuel efficient, as well as for seafood processing, storage and distribution.

“One of the best ways to reduce emissions in fishing operations is to implement science-based fisheries management,” said Fitzgerald. “This starts with rebuilding depleted fish stocks and restoring coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass beds and kelp forests, which can ultimately result in more efficient, resilient and profitable fisheries.”

In Indonesia and the Philippines, for example, improved fisheries management has resulted on average in a doubling of the number of fish available to local fishermen. The guide stresses that “the active engagement of fishers and their communities in the design and implementation of new practices is essential so as to preclude negative impacts on the role fisheries play in community food security and livelihoods.”

“The climate crisis and the ocean crisis are interrelated,” said Eric Schwaab, senior vice president for EDF Oceans program. “Now is the time for countries and stakeholders to significantly increase the ambition of their national climate actions to protect ocean ecosystems and ocean-dependent communities, while maximizing the potential of the ocean to be part of the solution to tackling climate change.”

Learn more about the connection between climate and the ocean at the Ocean-Climate Ambition Summit, Jan. 26-27 here.

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One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund