Ocean change is intensifying climate crisis - says new study

  • Date

    Thu 4 Nov 21

sunset over beach

Measures to address climate change and reach the Paris Agreement will not succeed unless the ocean is taken into account, according new research involving University of Essex scientists.

Addressing leaders at the UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow, the authors of the paper point out that “… the rate of climate change is still accelerating, largely linked to changes in the ocean, causing a continuing decline in nature, and disruption at the planetary scale to the environment, people, and all our futures.”

The paper, titled The forgotten ocean - why COP26 must call for vastly greater ambition and urgency to address ocean change,  is the work of scientists from around the world including marine biologist Dr Michelle Taylor from our School of Life Sciences and sets out six important areas in which progress has to be made to integrate the ocean into climate action.

Dr Taylor said: “The words “climate change” seem far too mundane for what we are facing - this is a climate crisis. The ocean absorbs 90% of all excessive heat humans create (land is just 3%), and it is the largest carbon sink on Earth.

“Our ocean is therefore central to any climate solution and discussions this week should have blue at their heart and at the top of the agenda if they are to succeed. The ocean is such an amazing buffer that it will be changing for centuries to come based on carbon we have already released - the time for change is now or the ocean role in earth maintenance will be disrupted causing far flung devastating consequences for global systems, changes that that will impact human community stability, security, prosperity and happiness.”

Pointing to the need for an “Earthscape” approach to decision making, the paper identifies key ways in which the ocean both mitigates climate change by absorbing excess heat and carbon from the atmosphere and aggravates it due to the failure in ocean systems exacerbating extreme weather, shifting ocean currents and reducing its ability to absorb carbon.

Calling on world leaders to urgently take action to protect the ocean, the authors said: “To turn the tide in favour of humanity and a habitable planet we need to recognise and better value the fundamental role that the ocean plays in the earth system, and prioritise urgent action needed to heal and protect it at the ‘Earthscape’ level – the planetary scale at which processes to support life operate.”

The six proposals in the paper, which is published in the journal, Aquatic Conservation are:

  1. Scale up solutions to an ‘Earthscape’ level - ambition must match the challenge
  2. Accelerate and integrate the efficacy of climate/biodiversity actions to achieve greater impact and effect
  3. Stop support for activities that damage the ocean - redirect incentives to positive outcomes for the planet
  4. Drive ocean recovery and restoration through enhanced global cooperation and momentum
  5. Highlight the connection between nature and global economics – value the ocean’s natural capital to invest in all our futures
  6. Deliver the science we need for a healthy, productive, and resilient ocean that benefits people and inspires humankind as a whole.