Climate change is a danger to our oceans
Climate change effects pose a great threat to the oceans. Its effects are wide-reaching and long-lasting, and it is likely many of them are on an irreversible track, even if our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions keep global warming well below 2°C.
In the effort to address the effects of climate change on the oceans, the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries is working on a report that will examine consequences for fish stocks and fisheries related to rising seawater temperatures. In my capacity as member of the Committee, I will be working on this report as shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA group.
Warming water temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and increased acidification are transforming living conditions in the oceans. These effects of the climate crisis profoundly alter marine ecosystems. They cause migration of species to the North as their habitats become unliveable, loss of oxygen and increase of ‘dead zones’. They increase the risk of extinction for many species and habitats, be it coral reefs that have suffered from dramatic rates of bleaching, be it through increased spread of marine diseases, and many other negative consequences for marine life as we know it.
In addition, increased pressure from climate change reduces the ability of oceans to act as carbon sinks and to regulate climate conditions. For humans, this means an increase in extreme weather events. The shift in geographical spread of marine species and the concerning loss of biodiversity also means that coastal communities whose livelihood depends on the oceans are threatened.
This calls for urgent action and a commitment to adaptation strategies so the effects of climate change can be mitigated.
Climate change worsens other problems - we need to give the oceans the possibility to recover.
It is important to remember that climate change is not the only stressor to the oceans, it only worsens other existing problems. Human activities threatening marine life such as overfishing, nutrient pollution, marine litter, and deep sea mining must be urgently addressed. We have to support the fishing industry and other marine industries in transitioning to low-impact practices that will decrease harmful effects for marine ecosystems.
Investment in well-managed and coherent marine protected areas (MPAs) will be crucial to allow marine ecosystems to recover and to give ecosystems the chance to adapt to climate change without other stressors. These marine protected areas have to be effectively designed in terms of size, location and level of protection. We also have to account for climate change adaptation strategies in the design and implementation of these MPAs, to invest in conservation and restoration measures, to focus on conserving vulnerable species at risk of extinction, and to restore damaged habitats. These measures will halt the worrying rate of biodiversity loss.
We have the tools: Let’s use them!
The good thing is: We already know a lot (albeit by far not everything there is to know) and we have the regulatory tools to make a difference. We need to make better use of existing research and legislation: Reports such as the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (2019) should inform and guide us in our way forward. The policy frameworks we already have, such as the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals, the EU Common Fisheries Policy and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive as well as the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 are only some of the tools we should use in a more systematic way.
The effects of climate change are here to stay, and we need to act fast to mitigate their effects on the marine ecosystems and our own livelihood. This problem requires an unprecedented level of coordination and cooperation between countries on a European and global level. It is a big issue to tackle, but it is vital that we act on it, with the appropriate level of ambition and decisiveness.