A radical shift is needed in how we value our oceans



Film director James Cameron's recent solo descent into the world's deepest ocean trench may well have been a dive into history. Along with collecting rock samples and video, his journey into the abyss shone a light on the world's oceans and ocean science and research.

Seventy percent of the planet is covered in vast oceans, generating more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe and helping to cushion the blow of climate change by absorbing carbon emissions and much of the heat added to the global system.

But a new study from the Stockholm Environment Institute says while the sheer size of our oceans have led most people to believe them to be unassailable, this is far from the truth according to the study 'Valuing the Ocean Environment: Economic perspectives.'

Rather than being 'too big to fail', the report's authors say 'the ocean is not immune to the destructive capacity of anthropogenic climate change and, more broadly, global environmental change. Its capacities are being stretched and some of the vital services it provides to humankind are seriously degraded.'

The study says the true worth of oceans' services and ecosystems, including food security, storm protection and carbon absorption are not being factored into our policy frameworks.

The report says these can and should be assigned monetary values which can then be integrated and prioritised within the broader picture of global social, environmental and economic policy and accounted for in future planning.

With many countries facing difficult economic times, the importance of ocean protection has dropped on the political agenda.  The report authors argue that on the contrary, a radical shift in the way we view and value oceans are needed.

So too there is a poor understanding of the interaction and overlapping of ocean ecosystems and how they impact coastal communities and economies.

The study fits together all the pieces in a chapter that examines the multiple stressors and their policy implications. The report then puts a monetary value on the avoidable portion of future global environmental change in the marine domain.

The avoidable portion is described as 'the distance between our hopes and our fears. Our hopes are represented by a 'low emissions, low climate impacts' future, our fears by a 'high emissions, high climate impacts' future'.

Impacts are estimated for five areas of the ocean that are suffering damage that can be meaningfully priced, and as the report notes, the cost of inaction is high.

'By 2050, the value of these important climate impacts is estimated to be more than four times higher under a high emissions, high impact scenario. By 2100, the cost of damage if we follow the high emission pathway rises to US$ 1,980 billion, equivalent to 0.37 percent of global GDP,' says the report.

The difference between the two scenarios, or the amount that can be saved by lowering emissions, is US$ 1,367 billion; that is more than a trillion dollars per year by 2100, equivalent to 0.25 percent of GDP.

That trillion dollar amount is what the report authors say policy makers should take particular note. As decisions are being made now, government's should take into account oceanic impacts, which in the long term could mean massive savings - or if ignored, 'yet another cost of inaction'.

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