The United States has taken ambitious steps for addressing climate change impacts on oceans and marine life.
The following article was published in the January-February 2023 issue of NewsNotes.
At a series of international environmental conferences throughout 2022, the United States led or joined new pledges and efforts to conserve and protect ocean waters and the life they contain.
“Ocean-based climate solutions have a key role in keeping the goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach and improving global climate resilience,” the U.S. Department of State said in a statement during the largest of the international environmental conference of the year, the UN Climate Talks COP27 in Egypt in November.
Early in 2022, during the seventh Our Ocean Conference in the island-nation of Palau in the western Pacific, the United States announced the Ocean Conservation Pledge, an ambitious new effort encouraging countries to commit to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of ocean waters under their national jurisdiction by 2030.
Soon after that, during the UN Water Conference in Portugal, the United States reiterated its support for Sustainable Development Goal Number 14: a “commitment to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources, by scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation.”
During COP 27 the United States announced the following pledges and commitments:
- Advancing the Ocean Conservation Pledge: During COP27, 16 countries pledged their commitment to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of ocean waters under their jurisdictions by 2030. John Kerry, the United States special presidential envoy for climate , called for conservation of 30 percent of the ocean habitat in a Boston Globe opinion piece in October 2019, to augment a similar call made by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2016.
- Launching the Green Shipping Challenge: Following President Biden’s call to action at the June 2022 Major Economies Forum, the United States and Norway launched the Green Shipping Challenge at COP27, with more than 40 major announcements from countries, ports, and companies on the actions they are taking to help align the shipping sector with the Paris Agreement goal. These efforts build on U.S. leadership in zero-emission shipping, including $3 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act to support zero-emission port equipment, technology, and climate action plans; more than $700 million in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to make U.S. ports more efficient and resilient; and U.S. efforts at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to advance a goal of phasing out greenhouse gas emissions from the international shipping sector to zero no later than 2050.
- Expanding the Blue Carbon Inventory Project: Blue carbon refers to carbon stored in coastal habitats such as seagrasses. Eighty-three percent of the global carbon cycle is circulated through the ocean. Coastal habitats cover less than two percent of the total ocean area but account for 50 percent of the total carbon sequestered in ocean sediments. However, these are some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world and are being destroyed by coastal development, pollution, mining, farming, and dredging. The United States is partnering with Costa Rica and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to develop data tools for countries to assess and track blue carbon and use the data to support their NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) as part of their commitment to the Paris climate agreement.
- Supporting the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance: Through the alliance, the United States is supporting three projects: a climate and ocean risk assessment for Toamasina, Madagascar; the third wave of the Ocean Resilience Innovation Challenge, which is building projects that benefit local communities and reduce climate risk; and the deployment of the Coastal Risk Index, which calculates and maps the protective benefits of mangroves and coral reefs into risk insurance models.
- Joining the Global Offshore Wind Alliance: Offshore wind has significant untapped potential to combat the climate crisis. The United States is a leader in offshore wind, with national goals to deploy at least 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030 and 15 GW of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035.
- Developing a National Ocean Acidification Action Plan: The United States announced the start of a process to create a plan to address the root causes of ocean acidification by COP28 in November 2023. The hope is this plan will provide a model for other countries to follow
Photo by Benjamin L. Jones courtesy of Unsplash