Ocean Experts Urge Priority Actions

Ocean Experts Urge Priority Actions on

Coastal Protection, Warming Seas, and Melting Arctic Ice


A New White Paper from UMass Institute

Traces the Intensifying Web of Interconnections among

Climate Change, Ocean Impacts, and International Security

by Felix Dodds and Michael Strauss


The extreme and devastating weather impacts of climate change have now become obvious to all but the most ideologically- (and financially-) invested climate deniers.   A parallel series of reactions in the world’s ocean ecosystems are becoming visible, as well.  But the combined effects of the shifts in those two vast geophysical systems on the equally complex dynamics governing human, economic and national security are only beginning to become clear.

The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS), based at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, has just published a policy and governance White Paper analyzing the pervasive impacts of global climate change on the world’s oceans, and the multiple potential  ways that changing oceans and atmosphere can affect human societies and disrupt  nations. 

The White Paper, titled Ocean-Related Impacts of Climate Change on Human and National Security, expands upon and updates conclusion drawn from the Global Conference on Oceans, Climate, and Security (GC’12), organized by CIOCS.  The paper was co-written by the authors of this blog, and by Robbin Peach, director of the Institute.

The Paper describes the cascading impacts of climate and ocean changes on international security systems, on coastal populations, on human health, on ocean resources, and on the rapidly melting Arctic.  It highlights a series of Priority Actions that can – and must – be taken to avoid the most destructive of those possible outcomes, defining more than three dozen specific actions.

The key political and economic actors who need to take leadership responsibility for initiating those actions are then identified.  It calls for advance planning and cooperation among national and local governments, international agencies, the private sector, educators, media, non-profit organizations (NGOs), and the U.S. Navy and maritime forces.

In the last 15 years the U.S. has experienced 12 of the hottest years on record, with heat waves, droughts, wildfires and floods all now more frequent and more intense.

Over the last nine months, the American public has watched ocean and climate change struggling to move up the political agenda.  The crowded and contentious reality of that agenda may make it tempting for many political leaders to – once again – defer action on an issue that is so complex and so far-reaching into the future that it can almost seem not to exist in the real worlds of the present.

But the all-too-real impacts of Superstorm Sandy painfully illustrated the potential impact of the changing weather patterns that all countries can come to expect on a regular basis.  Those effects that involve oceans will be felt by not only by coastal developing nations which rely on the seas as a primary source of protein for hundreds of millions of people, but by virtually all countries – coastal and inland, developed and developing – which depend on the transportation, recreation, nutrition and energy industries supported by the world’s oceans and their ecosystems.

The secondary and tertiary impacts on human security, and thereby on international political security, are rapidly emerging as a multi-layered issue that is still only partially understood.  Initial previews of such impacts might be the images of –

 ·         Thousands of Bangladeshi refugees attempting to flee flooded coastal plains, only to face refusal of passage by Indian border forces, fearing an overwhelming of their own country’s resources.
·         Canada’s naval forces steaming to patrol newly opened Arctic shipping lanes following a U.S. announcement that it would seek to sail those as international waters.
·         Food riots in Mexico City in 2007 following spiking prices of corn meal brought on by a combination of regional droughts and financial speculation half a world away.

U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who was among the 225 participants at the UMass conference, said:

“Compared to a century ago, oceans are now warmer, higher, stormier, saltier, lower in oxygen and more acidic.  Any one of these would be cause for concern.  Collectively, they cry out for action.”

The White Paper lists a series of recommendations for action  in five priority areas: the climate-oceans-security nexus; coastal and population effects; climate, oceans, and human health; Arctic impacts; and ocean benefits.  

Among its highlights, the Paper calls for:
  • The United States to urgently ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea UNCLOS and its two implementation agreements – the Part XI Deep-Sea Mining Agreement and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.
  • The Arctic Council member governments to significantly upgrade the political status of the Council by establishing the Ottawa Declaration as a treaty with legally binding obligations, by providing it a permanent independent secretariat, and by providing it an active role in ecosystem-based management (a strategy partially acted upon by the Council’s May 15, 2013 decision to add China and five other nations as associate members).
  • The Arctic Council to assume responsibility for –
    •  reviewing compliance with IMO Arctic Shipping Guidelines and IACS Unified Requirements for Polar-class ships. 
    • addressing regulatory gaps covering marine research, archaeology, bio-prospecting, laying of cables and pipelines, artificial islands and seabed construction, and military activities.
    • reviewing emerging and new maritime activities such as deep-sea tourism, CO2 sequestration, and floating installations
  • Scientists, businesses and local authorities to cooperate to rapidly research  ecologically sustainable methods for building coastal resilience against storm surges
  • Governments to restructure subsidies to the insurance industry for coverage of coastal properties through the National Flood Insurance Policy, and require that those sited on the coast pay full insurance rates.

In September 2010, then-Senator John Kerry effectively framed the inter-sectoral connections and the political challenges these issue bring – 

 “On … issues from global hunger to global health, changing global temperatures and weather patterns will inject a new element of chaos into the already-fragile existences of the world's poorest people.  Among the predictions are more famine and drought, expanding epidemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity and significant human displacement.  Ominously, the poorest and least equipped to respond are likely to be among the hardest hit. …

 “The impacts of climate change threaten the stability of our development strategies. It's time we
craft a path forward where our development and climate goals are mutually reinforcing.”
As the White Paper narrates, it will be up to political leaders like the newly-appointed Secretary of State Kerry – working in coherent collaboration with local authorities, ocean agencies, educators, businesses, and NGOs – to track the emerging challenges, create effective strategic responses, and  channel the technological, economic and political resources to take clear and necessary actions.

 The White Paper is available on Digital Commons at http://scholarworks.umb.edu/ciocs_pubs/1/

drawn from the discussions of the Global Conference on Oceans, Climate and Security

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

written by

Robbin Peach, University of Massachusetts Boston

Michael Strauss, Earth Media

for the

Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security

University of Massachusetts Boston
Press release available here


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