Valuing carbon in the ocean
At a workshop in Monaco in March 2017, a series of key questions and knowledge gaps around marine carbon were identified. These include the lack of consensus on its definition and purpose, the need to apply Earth-system scale understanding of the ocean car-bon cycle, and whether the concept of Blue Carbon can be used to incentivise positive action, particularly in marine systems beyond those at or very close to the coast.
Review paper summarizing these issues.
Air-sea interaction, policy, and stewardship
The actual forms of stewardship beyond national jurisdiction leave some blurred spaces where political and economic interests often clash. Thus, there is no general answer to the question of how policy-making deals with an uncertain future beyond national borders, although frameworks for both ocean and atmosphere governance require a global approach. There are many examples in which international law strives to require states to act collectively through international or regional organisations, or to adopt measures at a regional or national level, as agreed in binding agreements or voluntary instruments. Nevertheless, the challenges that arise from the lack of implementation, compliance, and enforcement are an impediment to achieving the desired outcomes.
Another pressing issue is cultural differences at the local, national, or regional level that impact effective promotion of long-lasting stewardship of the open ocean. The perception of the nature of the ocean is socially constructed in different ways, and colonial and post-colonial history, post-Cold War scenarios, and new transnational identities deeply affects any of these perceptions. In addition, different stakeholders use the ocean in different ways for different purposes, governed through tools like marine spatial planning. As a result, it is difficult to communicate the ocean to a global audience and accordingly to promote a shared approach to its stewardship.
Following on a review paper summarising air-sea governance challenges, it would be useful to evaluate global attitudes towards the open ocean, in general, and to develop ways to promote long lasting stewardship (including the identification of what approaches work for whom and why). We will need to draw heavily on the expertise of social scientists in this effort.
There is an increasing awareness of the impacts that shipping traffic may have on environmental processes in the surface ocean and the lower atmosphere in the future. For example, the use of new technologies in the shipping industry, such as scrubbers, is supposed to benefit the environment by significantly reducing certain ship emissions to the atmosphere. However, using scrubbers may lead to other, yet unascertained and unquantified impacts on the marine environment. Several interdisciplinary research priorities have been identified to help improve our understanding of these potential impacts and the development of a sustainable shipping industry.
The ability to accurately forecast ship emissions based on ship traffic data and data from shipping companies is a potentially powerful tool to evaluate the environmental impact of ship traffic and ensure compliance with legal regulations. However, due to its complex nature, this subject also requires traditional experimental research, as well as modelling efforts combining economic and natural science. Legal regulations of air pollution and liquid discharge from ships need to be considered as well, including the legal obligation to refrain from transforming one type of pollution into another.
Current national and international programs investigating ship-plumes within the context of interactions between the surface ocean and lower atmosphere include “Shipping Emissions in the Arctic and North Atlantic Atmosphere” (SEANA) and “Atmospheric Composition and Radiative forcing changes due to UN International Ship Emissions regulations” (ACRUISE). There have also been suggestions that the ShipTRASE project funded by the Belmont Forum could form the basis of an institutional entity with more permanent means of funding.
In future work, we hope to include topics like the evolving legal framework for ocean observations, involvement in the development of an international regime for the protection of the atmosphere, and co-operation with the group working on climate intervention.