Multiple Stressors Pushing Ocean Ecosystems to the Brink
Climate change alone could reduce the economic value of key ocean services by up to $2 trillion a year by 2100, a new study shows—but so many threats are converging on the oceans at once, that a global, integrated approach is urgently needed.
The study, Valuing the Ocean, is the work of an international, multi-disciplinary team of experts coordinated by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). The preliminary Executive Summary released on March 21 sends a strong message to world leaders preparing for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012—that protecting the oceans must be a priority in global sustainability goals.
The study also includes a groundbreaking analysis on ocean economics, designed to quantify the costs of ocean degradation, which are often invisible in the cost-benefit analyses that guide policy. The analysis calculates the cost over the next 50 and 100 years respectively in terms of five categories of lost ocean value (fisheries, tourism, sea-level rise, storms and the ocean carbon sink) under high- and low-emissions scenarios.
By 2100, the annual cost of the damages from ‘business as usual’ emissions, projected to lead to an average temperature rise of 4°C, is estimated to be $1.98 trillion, equivalent to 0.37 percent of future global GDP. A rapid emission reduction pathway that limited temperatures increases to 2.2 ° C, would ‘save’ (i.e. avoid) almost $1.4 trillion of those damages.
“These figures are just part of the story, but they provide an indication of the price of the avoidable portion of future environmental damage on the ocean—in effect the distance between our hopes and our fears,” says Frank Ackerman, director of SEI’s Climate Economics Group. “The cost of inaction increases greatly with time, a factor which must be fully recognised in climate change accounting.”
And while climate change is an enormous threat, it is not the only one. A key point of Valuing the Ocean is that the convergence of multiple stressors—acidification, ocean warming, hypoxia, sea-level rise, pollution and overuse of marine resources—could lead to damages far greater than just from individual threats.
The study does not put a monetary value on the total projected damages, many of which involve ‘priceless’ losses such as the eradication of species, but it argues that given how much we do know about the potential costs, world leaders should take a precautionary approach and take strong action to protect oceans, even in the absence of complete economic data.
“We must develop an integrated view of how our actions impact the ocean, and threaten the vital services it provides, from food to tourism to storm protection,” says Kevin Noone, director of the Swedish Secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and co-editor of Valuing the Ocean. “The global ocean is a major contributor to national economies, and a key player in the earth’s unfolding story of global environmental change, yet is chronically neglected in existing economic and climate change strategies at national and global levels. We want to bridge these gaps and give a holistic view of the value of the ocean.”
The review presents the latest evidence of the way in which parts of the ocean are being affected by multiple stressors—for example, ocean acidification, ocean warming and hypoxia—which means that the projected damage, and its costs, is much greater than with single impacts.
“We no longer have the luxury of tackling only one issue at a time. We urgently need to devise a management system that works across scales from local to global, and allows us to optimise our use of marine resources in a sustainable way given simultaneous, and often synergistic, threats,” says Julie Hall of the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, and co-author of the ‘Impacts of Multiple Stressors’ chapter.
Valuing the Ocean urges policy makers to fully consider the threats to ocean services in broader economic and development plans, including by valuing the massive ‘blue carbon’ absorption potential of marine ecosystems. The authors also call for local measures, such as marine protected areas (MPAs), to boost the resilience of marine ecosystems to insure against the growing risk of extreme events like mass coral bleaching and more intense tropical storms.
But given the enormity of the climate threat in particular, Valuing the Ocean stresses that the only way to avoid huge additional costs and disastrous consequences in the future is by dramatically cutting CO2 emissions.
Valuing the Oceans will be published in the summer of 2012. To view the executive summary, click here.
For more information, click here.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.