U.S. President Joe Biden has this week taken a further step in U.S. Government efforts to tackle climate change, with the launch of the Ocean Climate Action Plan (OCAP).
Speaking at The White House Conservation in Action Summit on 21 March, Biden said that the plan aims to “harness the tremendous power of the ocean to help in our fight against the climate crisis.”
“We can reduce emissions by building offshore wind farms,” he said, as well as “better protect our coastal and fishing communities from worsening storms, changing fisheries and other impacts on climate change.”
Blue carbon, offshore energy and marine protection among the focus areas
The first of its kind in the U.S., the Action Plan maps out eight “priority actions”. These include increasing ocean-based renewable energy through offshore windfarms and marine energy technology, conserving “blue carbon” marine habitats, and expanding marine protected areas.
Arati Prabhakar and Brenda Mallory, Co-Chairs of the U.S. Government’s Ocean Policy Committee, coordinated the OACP. Introducing the initiative, they emphasise the ocean’s “potential to advance a powerful set of solutions to address the climate crisis”.
The OACP will “enhance resilience of ocean ecosystems that provide food, jobs, recreational opportunities, cultural identity, and more”, they write.
“Climate-ready” sustainable fisheries
Among its eight priorities, the OACP aims to “advance and implement climate-informed management of fisheries and aquaculture and increase the resilience of fishing and other coastal communities.”
U.S. Government data show that in 2019, U.S. marine fishing and seafood industries generated over $255 billion in sales, contributed $117 billion to gross domestic product, and supported 1.8 million jobs.
Fishing and aquaculture, the action plan notes, are also “part of the history, economic foundation, and cultural heritage of many U.S. coastal communities, including historically disadvantaged and underserved populations, as well as Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples.”
However, “rapidly warming seas and changing ocean chemistry are driving shifts in the distribution and abundance of marine life, which is affecting fisheries management, fisheries, aquaculture opportunities, and fishing communities in the U.S.,” the report states.
Fishermen face significant challenges in adapting their activities according to these biological and environmental changes. The OACP proposes introducing better information tools and management systems to ensure fisheries are “climate ready”.
Sustainably-managed fisheries also have a role to play in climate change mitigation, “producing lower CO2 emissions per unit output compared to almost all land-based animal protein sources”, the OACP says.
U.S. will “expand and decarbonize” aquaculture
Sustainable aquaculture is also highlighted as a key sector in the Acion Plan. Seaweed cultivation in particular is highlighted for its potential for carbon sequestration, as well as habitat restoration and support for wild fisheries.
Among the actions outlined in the plan, the U.S. government says it will “expand and decarbonize sustainable U.S. aquaculture production to enhance resilience of U.S. and global seafood system to the impacts of climate change”.
This includes expanding renewable energy for aquaculture, with investment in research, development, and application of new aquaculture technologies. The U.S. government agencies NOAA, DOE, and USDA will take the lead on the initiative.
Additional benefits include “good-paying jobs, workforce innovation, resilient food production, ecosystem health, and scientific knowledge,” Prabhakar and Mallory write.
International action on ocean protection and climate change
The OACP is part of a wider U.S. Government commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, including a 65% reduction by 2030.
The White House announcement also follows in the wake of the UN High Seas treaty agreed at the beginning of March. The treaty provides a legal mechanism to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) in international waters.
The EU also recently launched its own package of measures aiming to improve sustainability and resilience for fisheries and aquaculture among its member states, and achieve net zero by 2050.
About the USA Ocean Policy Committee
The Ocean Policy Committee (OPC) was codified by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 to coordinate Federal actions on ocean-related matters. It is co-chaired by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. The Committee is directed to engage and collaborate with the ocean community on ocean-related matters. It also facilitates coordination and integration of Federal activities in ocean and coastal waters to inform ocean policy, identifies priority ocean science and technology needs, leverages resources and expertise to maximize the effectiveness of Federal investments in ocean research.