Science Academies Aiming to Raise the Profile of Ocean Acidification

The Royal Society has managed the impressive feat of co-ordinating with 69 other science academies from around the world to write a formal Inter-Academy Panel statement on ocean acidification. The statement is to be launched this week in a very deliberately timed act to coincide with the UNFCCC talks currently under way in Bonn.

The acidification of the world’s oceans, like climate change, is a direct consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The Academies argue that deep and rapid cuts in CO2 emissions are the only solution, and point out that ocean acidification is not yet on the agenda for the UNFCCC Bonn or Copenhagen talks. The Academies therefore hope to use this statement to raise the profile of ocean acidification within the UNFCCC talks, and to encourage climate negotiators to consider the additional impacts of ocean acidification when discussing global emission reduction targets.

The statement emphasises the critical role of the oceans in the global carbon cycle: they have absorbed about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by human activities since the industrial revolution. Rapid and irreversible changes in ocean chemistry have occurred as a direct result, with our seas now more acidic than they have been for 800,000 years. This acidification has significant implications for marine ecosystems. At current emission rates models suggest that all coral reefs and polar ecosystems will be severely affected by 2050 or potentially even earlier. Marine food supplies are likely to be reduced with significant implications for food production and security in regions dependent on fish protein, and human health and wellbeing.

The statement concludes that deep and rapid reductions of global CO2 emissions by at least 50% by 2050 and much more thereafter are needed, and calls on world leaders to:

-acknowledge that ocean acidification is a direct and real consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, that it is already having an effect at current concentrations, and that it is likely to cause grave harm to important marine ecosystems as CO2 concentrations reach 450 ppm and above;

– within the context of the UNFCCC negotiations, recognise the direct threats posed by increasing atmospheric CO2 emissions to the oceans and therefore society, and take action to mitigate this threat;

– reinvigorate action to reduce stressors, such as overfishing and pollution, on marine ecosystems to increase resilience to ocean acidification.

To view a copy of the Inter-Academy Panel Statement, please click here.