Cousteau and World Oceans Day at the Copenhagen Conference

14 December 2009

Oceans and acidification largely ignored in Copenhagen negotiations.


The planet’s seas and oceans cover 70 percent of Earth’s surface and shelter the same percentage of biomass. They are essential for life: they produce oxygen, absorb CO2 (25% of our annual production of CO2) and regulate climate and temperature. Sixty percent of human beings live less the 60 km away from a coast; 23% of people live less than 100 kilometers from a coast and less than 100 meters above sea level.

The oceans are grossly under-represented, compared to forests, in the climate change negotiations taking place in Copenhagen (COP 15), despite the fact that human activities are exposing the “Silent World,” championed by Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, to a threat of biodiversity degradation through acidification not known in 20 million years!

Since 1800, one-third of the CO2 emissions linked to human activities have been absorbed by the oceans, the equivalent of one ton of CO2 per person per year. So the ocean plays a very important role as a carbon sink but it seems that the absorption of CO2 has ceased to grow. This massive absorption has helped compensate for climate change but it entails a disturbing change in the chemistry of sea water: acidification.

Many marine species like corals and pteropods could cause major ripple effects throughout ecosystems and food webs ultimately affecting even the largest animals in the oceans, as well as many fisheries.

A new study made in partnership with UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre was released yesterday by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity (Scientific Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biological Diversity, CBD Technical Serie N°46, 2009).

It predicts that ocean acidity will rise by 150% between now and 2050. Such a dramatic increase is 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years, leaving very little time for biological systems to adapt, if they can. As one of the side events of the Copenhagen Conference, one day was dedicated to oceans on December 14. Experts from all over the world sounded the alarm for the threat of catastrophic acidification of marine environments due to the absorption of CO2. Emphasis also fell on the exposure of coastal communities to climate threats, especially in developing countries and island states, when the Seychelles, Solomon Islands, French Polynesia and Indonesia spoke on their behalf.

To protect a huge part of the ocean diversity, including coral reefs and the ecosystems that depend on them, we must stabilize carbon dioxide in our atmosphere below 350 ppm!

To achieve this necessary goal, global emissions must be reduced to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 to 95 percent by 2050.

Compensation measures have been brought up but, from our point of view, too rarely do they question the development model that Captain Cousteau long ago denounced when he said, “There is a sort of irony in our destiny. Born of a completely legitimate battle for survival, technological research and progress now threaten to compromise our very survival along with that of other plant and animal species.”

It is past time to invent a new, more just model of development that is in harmony with natural cycles and respectful of living beings.

Tarik CHEKCHAK, from Copenhagen COP15
Director of Science and Environment - Equipe Cousteau - the Cousteau Society

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