Back to Blue: Tackling ocean acidification

16 November 2023
Ocean Acidification

Commonwealth to launch e-learning course to support policy handbook on ocean acidification

Each year, our ocean absorbs around 25 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, acting as a buffer against the full brunt of climate change. But this immense and silent service has come at a grave cost: ocean acidification.

“It is a profound and alarming transformation that threatens marine ecosystems, coastal economies, and communities dependent on the ocean's bounty,” Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, told an audience of policymakers and scientists at Marlborough House today.

The Secretary-General was speaking at a ‘Back to Blue’ panel discussion co-organised by the Commonwealth, Economist Impact and The Nippon Foundation.

In her speech, she thanked New Zealand for its leadership on the Commonwealth Blue Charter Ocean Acidification Action Group, and reminded the audience of the importance of the ocean to member countries.

“Forty-nine Commonwealth countries border the ocean. Our member states are stewards of more than one-third of the global ocean under national jurisdiction. Nearly half of all coral reefs, and a third of all mangroves, are in the Commonwealth. And two-thirds of the world’s Small Island Developing States are in the Commonwealth.”
On ocean acidification, she said:
“The stakes could not be higher, and time is of the essence.”

In his opening remarks, Mr Mitsuyuki Unno Executive Director of The Nippon Foundation said there was a need to address ‘ocean blindness’ – a combination of ignorance, indifference and disregard for the sea, its resources, and vulnerabilities.

Scientists at the event described ocean acidification as a growing crisis, which needs urgent policy solutions. Professor Steve Widdicombe, Director of Science at Plymouth Marine Laboratory said:
“It is a widespread and rapidly growing problem. The ocean is 40 per cent more acidic than it was before pre-industrial levels. Over the last 40 years, half of that acidification has taken place.”

Dr Nick Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth explained:

“As C02 enters the ocean, it combines with seawater and carbonic acid is produced. The results are an increasingly acidic ocean which could ultimately impact the entire marine food chain.
“We know enough to act, now we have to start thinking about how this impacts the hundreds of millions of people who rely on the ocean as a food source.”

He said governments were beginning to recognise this in their global commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (NDCs) and in their National Adaptation Plans to curb the impact of climate change.

Hon Phil Goff, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom called for evidence driven data that policymakers can go out and sell to the electorate because it impacts them directly.

Thomas Pye, Head of ocean climate and science Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK Government, said that strengthening the resilience of coastal ecosystems is a fundamental action.

Hon Karen-Mae Hill, Antigua and Barbuda’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom said smaller countries had the agility to mobilise and act quickly.

“We will learn from the United Kingdom and New Zealand. That is what I love about the Commonwealth. We can learn from each other and amplify the power of small states,” she said.

Under its flagship Blue Charter programme, the Commonwealth produced a free-to-use policy handbook to help governments tackle ocean acidification.  

The Commonwealth will soon be launching an e-learning course to support the handbook. Dr Hardman-Mountford said it would help local policymakers seeking to address ocean acidification, particularly those in resource-constrained countries. He said:

“Our key message is: ‘There’s a lot you can do to look at how ocean acidification affects your country and take much-needed action.” 

Ocean acidification: a threat to marine ecosystems and economies in the Commonwealth and beyond

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