New White House plan prioritizes harnessing the power of the ocean to fight climate change

Oceans around the world are suffering from sea heat, pollution, coral bleaching, mass extinction and overfishing. Along the west coast, algae are dying off, absorbing a lot of carbon dioxide. Other areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, are seeing an alarming increase in low-oxygen dead zones and more frequent toxic red tides.

Many of these issues are linked directly or indirectly to climate change, and the first-ever U.S. Climate Action Plan released today recognizes that the planet cannot have a carbon-neutral future without healthy oceans — and that oceans are not healthy. until the climate stabilizes.

“In developing the Ocean Action Plan, we recognize that the ocean, land and atmosphere are inextricably linked,” the introduction to the plan states.

Oceans cover about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. They produce 50 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere, capture more than 90 percent of excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases, and absorb 25 to 30 percent of anthropogenic carbon emissions, so their role in stabilizing the climate is critical.

“This Ocean Climate Action Plan is the first comprehensive approach the US has taken to harness the power of the ocean to fight climate change,” said Gene Flemma, Director Ocean Defense Initiative. She added that the plan could spark a wave of powerful climate change action that could cut emissions.

“However, a plan is only as strong as its implementation. We look forward to working with the Biden administration to ensure federal agencies take strong action to combat ocean climate change and help communities that need it most.”

Some parts of the plan, such as the expansion of marine protected areas, may be implemented by executive authorities, while others may be subject to legislative action or revision. It also directs other agencies to focus funding from federal climate legislation on some of the plan’s goals, such as exploring the potential for carbon sequestration in depleted oil and gas reservoirs.

Critical to conservationists, the plan calls for the creation of new highly protected marine reserves and the networking of all protected areas to make them more resilient to warming oceans. And it encourages public engagement, consultation with tribes, and the use of indigenous knowledge to create climate-resilient marine protected areas.

In a letter announcing the plan, Environmental Quality Council Chairman Brenda Mallory and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar wrote, “This plan should not be seen as an exhaustive list of ocean activities, but rather as a plan specifically focused on action to combat ocean climate change.”

They promoted the new plan as a chance to advance the Biden administration’s ocean climate priorities, such as “advancing climate solutions, advancing environmental justice, and building resilience for coastal communities and ocean economies.”

The Ocean Action Plan was released as part of a broader initiative to preserve American lands and waters announced today, including a proposal to create marine reserves in US waters around the outlying Pacific Islands. The White House said that if completed, it would meet the Biden administration’s goal of keeping at least 30 percent of ocean waters under American jurisdiction by 2030.

The plan has three broad goals: creating a carbon-neutral future; accelerating the development of natural solutions that protect and support coastal and ocean ecosystems that capture and store greenhouse gases; and building community resilience to ocean change.

Ocean Solutions?

Despite all the signs that the oceans are in an ecological crisis, the plan first mentions goals such as increasing offshore wind and offshore energy, including tidal and wave power.

Producing more renewable energy from the ocean could cut greenhouse gas emissions, but it also puts pressure on some of the very marine resources the administration wants to protect, so a delicate balance will be needed to make those plans work.

The White House Committee on Ocean Policy also cited the decarbonization of shipping and offshore carbon storage technologies as important steps towards carbon neutrality. Finally, the plan mentions the climate benefits of “blue carbon”, that is, the sequestration of CO2 from the conservation and restoration of coastal and marine habitats.

The European Union launched a similar plan last month, but with a stronger focus on protecting and restoring marine ecosystems, with a focus on ending bottom fishing, which indiscriminately takes both beneficial and unwanted species and disrupts ocean sediments, which are natural carbon. sinking.

The US plan was developed by a committee that included representatives from almost every part of the executive branch, including the military and intelligence, NASA, the State Department, and the Department of Agriculture.

At its first meeting in 2021, the committee set itself three strategic priorities: maximizing the environmental, economic and social benefits of the ocean; developing climate change mitigation measures with the help of the oceans; and defining a strategic direction for ocean science and technology.

Renewable energy production is certainly a starting point. The plan estimates that ocean power could produce more than half of the country’s electricity needs if fully utilized. This includes well-established offshore wind turbines as well as turbines driven by waves, tides or ocean currents. Several tidal projects generate electricity on a small scale, but studies show that these sources have enormous energy potential.

Even if only a small part is captured, it will make a significant contribution to the country’s energy needs. In the short term, “offshore energy could serve U.S. coastal communities and provide on-site clean electricity to rural and remote island communities that often rely on costly fossil fuel supplies.”

The plan also directs various agencies to explore the possibility of capturing greenhouse gas emissions from offshore industrial sites and storing them in seabed formations, including “depleted oil and gas reservoirs.”

One part of the plan that’s sure to get a lot of attention requires exploring ways the ocean can absorb carbon from the atmosphere, fertilizing areas of the ocean with minerals to encourage the growth of organisms that capture CO2 through photosynthesis. Stimulating plankton growth on a climate-friendly scale can disrupt natural cycles that are critical for fish, birds and marine mammals.

The plan covers ocean areas under the jurisdiction of the United States, but was released just a week after 195 nations agreed in principle on a high seas treaty that aims to establish similar science-based environmental management for oceans outside national zones.

In these zones, there are similar concerns about possible ocean geoengineering projects, says marine scientist Rebecca Helm, a marine scientist at Georgetown University’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability.

“You have probably seen these geoengineering proposals, for example, we are going to solve the problem of climate change by pumping all deep sea water to the surface,” she said, adding that such proposals or plans must be evaluated against strict scientific criteria. protecting ecosystems, she said.

She added that ocean projects may be well-intentioned but have not been subject to proper environmental review.

“There is a company that collects plastic from the high seas,” she said. “So they’ve got these two giant ships and this big fishing net, and they’re sort of cleaning up the plastic.”

In this case, she said she was aware of two environmental impact assessments, one of which completely overlooked the surface ecosystem, and the second caused several “huge red flags,” she said. With better rules in place, these conflicting results would have been made public and verified by scientific and technical teams.

Good ocean governance rules, whether on the high seas or in national waters, also allow affected parties to raise serious issues from the start of the process, especially communities that have long been excluded from rules and decision-making.

The Ocean Climate Action Plan marks a new way of looking at ocean governance and avoids past mistakes such as killing whales and degrading mangroves and coral reefs, he said. Christy Goldfusschief political influencer Council for the Protection of Natural Resources.

“It harnesses the power of the ocean to fight climate change and increase the resilience of marine ecosystems to climate stress,” she said.

But Goldfuss called for a slow approach when it comes to manipulating ocean chemistry to try and remove unwanted carbon from the climate system, saying “a cautious approach is warranted to prevent repeating the mistakes of the past in ocean and human health management.”

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