Five Ways The Biden-Harris Victory Could Mean A Global Ocean Renaissance

9/11/20 | 0 | 0 | 133 εμφανίσεις

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Nishan Degnarain

The outcome of the US Presidential Election has huge significance for the the health of the planet, including one of its most critical ecosystems, the ocean.

As the world’s largest economy, decisions taken in Washington DC has ramifications around the world on global supply chains, business models and public policy positions.

Life on Earth is dependent on a healthy ocean. We are a blue planet where over 70% of the earth’s surface is actually water. It is one of the most critical ecosystems through which climate change is acting on our planet, and it is an ecosystem under duress.

There are decisions that a new President can take within the first 100 days in office, that would not just stop the harm being caused to the world’s ocean, but could restore the ocean to its original health through new investments in an ocean economy built on principles of sustainability and breakthrough new technologies.

The ocean is foundational to life on the planet

Having a stable and healthy ocean is critical to billions of people around the world for food security, transportation of goods, biodiversity, storm protection, all of which directly impacts the lives of millions of coastal and island communities.

In the last four years, awareness about the importance of the ocean has risen higher than it has ever been in history. However, over these past four years, US leadership has largely been absent from some of the biggest policy decisions on the ocean.

What could the Biden-Harris victory mean for ocean health?

Here are five Executive Orders that the new Presidential team could take which would transform US leadership for the world’s oceans overnight.

1. Rejoin the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

The US has opted out of several of the most important international environmental commitments. The most important of these is the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Under President Trump, the US had formally left the agreement on November 4. However, the door is open for the United States to rejoin this agreement, and start making commitments toward a low carbon growth path.

There are a series of other international agreements that will be important for the United States to show leadership on, even though the US is not a signatory to the UN Law of the Seas (the law governing the oceans that came into force in 1994).

Even if the United States does not ratify the international agreements, it can still mirror such agreements (such as protecting 30% of US territorial waters) through a series of domestic legislation and Executive Orders.

2. Earth Observation

NASA has by far the largest budget for space. It spends over $22 billion a year. However, less than 10% ($1.8 billion) is focused on Earth Science.

This is less than half of what the European Space Agency (ESA) allocates toward Earth Observation. The ESA spends almost 22% its budget on Earth Observation ($900 million a year of its $4.3 billion a year budget).

Aligning NASA’s budget allocations with that of the ESA would mean almost $3 billion a year additional boost for Earth Observation ($4.7 billion a year for Earth Observation in total).

With the stroke of one pen, this would be greater than all of the venture capital investment into Earth Observation space startups in the past four years, as well as the other international space agencies combined.

Increasing investments in Earth Observation from space is critical to identify the sources of harm to our planet, and is the only scalable way to achieve this over the global ocean.

Such an executive decision would allow breakthroughs in new Earth observation technologies such as detecting harmful Methane or Sulphur emissions by satellite, and allowing the world to more effectively manage emissions and pollution.

It will also be critical that NASA develops the right public-private partnership to commission the innovation of the growing private sector in space technologies, rather than needing to become an operator.  This will ensure a far greater impact for each dollar spent.

Complementing an increased NASA budget with a revitalization of NOAA could transform global understanding of the ocean over the next decade.

3. Enforce Climate Change Emission Targets in Shipping

Global shipping is the sixth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet. It burns the dirtiest fuels – the heavy residuals at the end of the oil refining process, which is as thick as peanut butter.

Over the past four years, global shipping has never been held to account for this pollution. It opted out of the Paris Agreement and has pushed forward an agenda through the UN Shipping Agency, the International Maritime Organization, to continue increasing emissions with no compulsory enforcement to reduce emissions by 40% within a decade as the Paris Agreement demands.

The US is a powerful ‘Tier A’ country within the UN’s International Maritime Organization. It’s leadership in both insisting on stricter measures within the IMO, and also including a US-specific carbon emissions on vessels entering US waters will transform the industry. It has already begun this with exploring a pathway toward carbon pricing through the US Congress (called the Ocean Climate Based Solutions Act).

Having stricter emissions target could unleash the same innovation on the ocean as we’ve seen with the decarbonization of road and air transportation.

4. Revitalize the Ocean Bio-economy

Over the past century, the ocean has often been regarded as a place of extraction – whether from industrial scale fishing, overdevelopment of coastal properties, offshore oil and gas, deep sea mining. However, it is the biodiversity within the ocean that holds the greatest promise for the future.

The US can stimulate a global resurgence in the marine bio-economy with the sheer scale of the US economy and investment.

A Biden-Harris Presidency could transform the ocean bio-economy through a few key steps linked to a National Ocean Bioeconomy strategy.

 

 

 

  • Invest in a sustainable aquaculture production in cleaner waters of the United States. This will act as a boost to sustainable aquaculture farming around the world, and start to ensure the higher standards needed in the industry (e.g., aquaculture that more closely mimics the natural environment with seaweed and bottom feeders that accompanies fish which are grown in large cages). Such technologies should be accompanied with stricter regulations around the use of antibiotics and feed for aquaculture. It should also allow for investments in new technologies such as large scale coral farming and using the ocean as a way to extract carbon from the atmosphere through novel seagrass technologies.
  • Ensure full traceability of all seafood entering the United States. This will prevent authorized and illegal overfishing that is taking place around the world, and promote higher value, higher quality fishing operations around the world. With seafood fraud being as high as 20% in the United States, such traceability is crucial for food security as well as sustainability.

 

 

  • Increase protection of ocean environments. The US can exert leadership in its own waters as well as key regions such as the Arctic and Antarctica.  Secretary John Kerry spearheaded a lot of such agreements in the ocean, with groundbreaking agreements in Antarctica.
  • Ban offshore oil and gas exploration and development. Not only is offshore oil and gas detrimental from a climate perspective, the hidden costs of the industry from smaller leaks are only just being discovered. President Trump has been encouraging an expansion in the offshore industry during his Presidential term.
  • Introduce a single use plastics ban. There are many laws within the Environmental Protection Agency that may need to be explored. One important one could be a ban on the use of single use plastics across the United States, as many states like California have already introduced.
  • Ban any minerals sourced from deep ocean mining. This is an industry that the United Nations is about to launch later this year, against the opposition of many environmental groups and civil society.

 

5. Establish joint US-China leadership over the environment

One of President Biden’s trickiest tasks is balancing the US relationship with China. This is a non trivial task with multiple dimensions. However, one area there may be common ground is in how both the US and China approach the environment.

Under President Trump, tensions with China have risen significantly over the past four years. Yet over this time, China has taken global leadership position in climate and environmental issues.

Under President Trump, many of the US allies have become more carbon polluting. The leaders of IndiaJapan, Norway and Australia have pushed controversial environmental stances on the fossil fuels and the protection of the planet.

Over this time, the European Union has had more in common with China’s environmental stance than the United States. The recent announcements by Japan and South Korea to be carbon neutral by 2050 was in many ways a reaction to China’s earlier and bolder statement in September.

This leaves India as the big outlier of a major economy in the world that which has continued to push a more carbon-intensive climate position with coal, oil and gas as fundamental pillars of the Indian economy, and no serious push to address India’s growing environmental footprint under Prime Minister Modi.

Several international organizations have been rudderless without US leadership. This is not just funding, but stronger operational oversight. Joint US-China leadership over the key environmental organizations could prove transformational to the planet over the next decade.

These include the World Bank and IMF where the conditions of such international lending tied to carbon targets will be critical as the world emergence from the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the other international environmental groups (such as the UN Environment Program, UN Development Program, Convention on Biodiversity, Global Climate Fund, Global Environment Fund) require a major overhaul in order for the world to meet global climate, ocean and biodiversity targets.

This is a complex network of international relationships, that require strong joint leadership at the top of these institutions and even stronger accountability. While a tall order given the tensions between the two largest economies in the world, having strong US-China leadership over the environment could reset the direction that the planet is heading toward.

Hope for the future: go beyond traditional thinking

The new Biden-Harris team cannot just look at traditional thinking to achieve these environmental goals for the planet.

Innovative new technologies today allow for greater possibilities and an exciting new vision for the future.

The use of satellites, big data, artificial intelligence, autonomous vessel, electrification of the inland vessel fleet, plant-based proteins could achieve the planet and ocean’s goals in more rapid ways than ever anticipated, while at the same time, redefining a new competitive economy for the US.

The US has historically underinvested in technology with its own governance systems of its ocean territory (e.g., its fishing data infrastructure), so there are a lot of low hanging fruit that can quickly be addressed.

One debate has always been whether the US should try and push to ratify the US Law of the Seas. This would be near impossible with a divided US Congress. However, a more profound consideration is whether the US may consider taking a more regional approach to ocean policy. The closer that one examines the United Nations bodies responsible for the ocean, the less convincing it is that this would make the difference needed. Many of these UN bodies appear to have been captured by lobby groups more intent on the destruction of the ocean environment (just look at the UN’s Shipping Agency the International Maritime Organization or the UN’s Seabed Authority). A wholesale reform of the Law of the Seas and UN institutions governing the oceans are needed in order for the United Nations to still be relevant for the oceans.

A more pragmatic approach than wholesale reform of the United Nations, could be through a series of regional agreements covering the five main ocean basins (Arctic Ocean, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean). It could well be that this is a direction a future Biden-Harris team may decide to pursue to achieve greater traction for the ocean and the planet.

So as the US emerges from a historic election amid a global pandemic, there is a real opportunity to build a more prosperous economy, which can allow for an exciting resurgence in ocean health.

It just takes the right leadership team at the top, and a mindset to build back better.

I am a Development Economist focused on Innovation, Sustainability, and Ethical Economic Growth. I currently work with leading Silicon Valley technology companies on

Category: International

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