Speaking yesterday at the State Department in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Kerry called on global leaders to "push harder" for a U.N. agreement to fight carbon pollution and reduce the impact of climate change on the world's oceans.
Kerry's remarks set a bold and urgent tone at the launch of "Our Ocean," a two-day summit bringing together heads of state, advocates, scientists and lawmakers to discuss ways to protect oceans from harmful human-induced effects, such as overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification.
"Stewardship of our ocean is not a one-person event; it's a universal requirement all across this planet," Kerry said.
"It's responsible for recycling things like water, carbon, nutrients throughout our planet, throughout the ecosystem ... so that we have air to breathe, water to drink. And it is home to literally millions of species," he added.
Kerry, a sailor's son with a family history of sea trade, pointed to climate change as "one of the greatest threats" to the world's oceans and urged leaders and experts across the globe to develop a plan that would shed light on the acidification effect that carbon pollution is having on sea water.
"Because of climate change," he said, "the basic chemistry of our ocean is changing faster than it has ever changed in the history of the planet." He added, "If it continues much longer, a significant chunk of marine life may simply die out because it can no longer live, no longer survive in the ocean's waters."
Standing up to souring seas
Speaking a few hours later at a luncheon, Kerry announced that the State Department and Department of Energy will each make a $320,000 contribution to the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre in Monaco, totaling $640,000, "in order to help kick the acidification study into even higher gear."
Prince Albert II of Monaco, also at the luncheon, said ocean degradation "is simply unacceptable and abhorrent," adding that "we absolutely have to come together to address these issues and find the solutions, find viable solutions, not only on the economic side, on the social-economic side, but also on the sustainable and environmental side that is so important."
In the United States, however, domestic funding for souring seas is meager. Ocean acidification research received a mere $6 million in this year's omnibus -- a figure that the Senate wants to increase to $11 million in fiscal 2015 (Greenwire, June 16).
But scientists continue to raise the red flag. According to NOAA scientist Richard Feely, if carbon dioxide levels are not reduced, 50 percent of the West Coast's ocean water could become acidic by 2050 (ClimateWire, May 1).
"We're seeing fairly dramatic changes over very short periods of time," Feely said. "There's a certain urgency for us as humans to try and address this problem."
The little island that could
President Anote Tong of the Republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean that is being severely threatened by rising seas, also took to the stage during the launch of the summit.
Tong spoke about the negative impacts climate change has on his country and called it one of the greatest moral challenges in modern times. He added that the best way to address it can be found in the ocean.
"It is not about economics, not anymore," he said. "It is not a political football. It is not about the course or who is responsible anymore. It is now about what we must do together as responsible global citizens."
In an attempt to protect one of the world's most important natural areas and conserve dwindling tuna stocks, Tong announced that Kiribati's Phoenix Islands Protected Area -- a 408,250-square-kilometer expanse of land and sea habitats -- will close to all commercial fishing by the end of 2014 with an exemption for subsistence fishing around Kanton Island.
"The closure of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area will have a major contribution for regeneration of tuna stocks, not only for us but for our global community, and for generations to come," he said.
Kerry called Tong "one of the loudest, one of the clearest voices in the world in the call for global action to address climate change."
"And there's a simple reason why he has a special interest," the secretary of State added. "It is because climate change is already posing an existential threat to his country."
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