Ocean protection is key to climate action

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COP26: time to act

The health of our planet depends on the health of our ocean.

Ahead of the COP26 climate conference, the World Cetacean Alliance is calling on global leaders and policymakers to recognise the crucial link between ocean ecosystems and the climate system.

Urgent and ambitious action is needed now, from all nations, to ensure that marine environments receive the protection necessary to continue supporting life on Earth.

“Next week, 196 nations will meet for the 26th time since 1994 to discuss how to tackle climate change. With every passing year, the urgency has grown and our window of opportunity has shrunk. The time for discussion is over and our leaders now need to act, but more than that, they need to be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of our planet.”

Harry Eckman, CEO of the World Cetacean Alliance

Our greatest ally

While conversations around climate commitments are focusing on new technologies, we mustn’t overlook the value of the ocean as a vital, nature-based solution in our efforts to reach net zero.

The ocean captures 20-30% of carbon emissions each year and has helped to regulate the climate by absorbing more than 90% of global warming caused by human activity.

Marine wildlife, including cetaceans, are part of the answer. Whales provide the fertiliser for phytoplankton – microscopic organisms which can absorb billions of tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to four times the amount captured by the Amazon rainforest.

Research has also found that whales themselves accumulate tons of carbon in their bodies. When a whale dies naturally, their body carries this carbon down to the ocean floor, removing it from the atmosphere for centuries.

Under threat

Our planet’s life-support system is already suffering from the effects of the climate crisis.

Ocean warming, acidification, oxygen loss, melting ice, and rising sea levels are increasing at an unprecedented rate, and it may not be possible for marine wildlife to keep up with these drastic changes.

Whales, hunted almost to extinction, are now struggling to recover due to rapidly rising sea temperatures. These warmer waters result in a low supply of food species, such as krill, depriving whales of the energy they need to reproduce.

Greenhouse gases and waste from industrial animal agriculture are among the factors directly contributing to the ocean’s deteriorating health. ‘Dead zones’ of oxygen-starved coastal waters have been created by agricultural runoff, causing damage to ecosystems, further increasing greenhouse gas production, and threatening people’s food security and livelihoods.

Protect the ocean, protect the future

Scientists have identified the potential of the ocean and its ecosystems as a key solution to climate change, with strategies including renewable energy production, more sustainable travel, and ‘blue carbon’ habitat restoration.

As the consequences of the climate emergency unfold around us, to devastating effect, there has never been a more critical time to take action.

The WCA urges all parties at COP26 to seize this opportunity and commit to a sustainable future – for the ocean, humans, and marine wildlife.

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