Climate change to cost $2 trillion annually in damage to oceans: Experts

Greenhouse gases are likely to result in annual costs of nearly $2 trillion in damage to the oceans by 2100, according to a new Swedish study, by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI ). Warmer seas will lead to greater acidification and oxygen loss, hitting fisheries and coral reefs, it warns. Rising sea levels and storms will boost the risk of flood damage, especially around the coastlines of  Africa and Asia, it adds the cost of damage from global warming.

The hunt is on for world’s strongest corals: The SEI found nitrogen-rich fertilizers and waste would strip more ocean areas of oxygen, causing what is known as hypoxic dead zones, which are already found in more than 500 locations. The institute said that under a business-as-usual scenario, without radical cuts to emissions, the annual cost would hit $1.98 trillion, or 0.37 percent of global gross domestic product, by 2100.

However, in a statement, the SEI added that “a rapid emission reduction pathway that limited temperatures increases to 2.2 degrees Celsius would ‘save’ (i.e. avoid) almost $1.4 trillion of those damages.” “These figures are just part of the story, but they provide an indication of the price of the avoidable portion of future environmental damage on the ocean – in effect the distance between our hopes and our fears,” Frank Ackerman, director of the Climate Economics Group at SEI-US, said in the statement.

“The cost of inaction increases greatly with time, a factor which must be fully recognized in climate change accounting,” he added.

It cautions that these figures do not take into account the bill for small island states swamped by rising seas. Nor do they include the impact of warming on the ocean’s basic processes, such as nutrient recycling, which are essential to life.

“The ocean has always been thought of as the epitome of unconquerable, inexhaustible vastness and variety, but this ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ image may be its worst enemy,” notes the report.

The loss of tourism would incur the highest cost at $639 billion per year. The loss of the ocean carbon sink — the seas’ ability to soak up carbon dioxide (CO2) — would cost almost $458 billion, the study showed. Warmer water holds less carbon dioxide.

Reuters report that radical cuts to emissions would require the widespread use of radical carbon removal technologies like sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. “The faster we stop emissions rising, the lower the damage will be. But on current technology, I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up on a 4 degree C pathway,”

The study did not put a monetary value on the loss of some species which inhabit the world’s oceans, critical processes like nutrient cycling or the loss of coastal communities’ traditional ways of life.  The study recommended that the United Nations appoints a High Commissioner for Oceans to coordinate research and action and that there should be more preparation for a 1-2 meter (up to 6.5 feet) sea level rise by the end of the century.

“We must develop an integrated view of how our actions impact the ocean, and threaten the vital services it provides, from food to tourism to storm protection,” Kevin Noone, director of the Swedish Secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said in the statement. Noone, a co-editor of the report, added that the global ocean was “a major contributor to national economies … yet is chronically neglected in existing economic and climate change strategies at national and global levels.”

A key point of Valuing the Ocean is that the convergence of multiple stressors – acidification, ocean warming, hypoxia, sea-level rise, pollution, and overuse of marine resources – could lead to damages far greater than just from individual threats. Valuing the Oceans, a book to be published later this year by the Stockholm Environment Institute

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