Posted on October 21, 2020 by Healthy Oceans Coalition
On October 20, 2020, the United States House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee introduced the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act. The Healthy Oceans Coalition applauds this bold and necessary move toward a climate-resilient future. Sarah Winter Whelan, Director of the Healthy Oceans Coalition offers the following statement:
“The Healthy Oceans Coalition is proud to support the Oceans-Based Climate Solutions Act. This bill delivers the vision and blueprint to truly protect the ocean and pivot it into the climate champion we need.”
From coast to coast, our nation has been rocked by disasters this year--and not just from the pandemic. Too many Americans have experienced firsthand just how vulnerable our health, safety, and economy are to climate change, whether from record-breaking hurricanes or unprecedented wildfires.
We are facing a climate emergency. We must act now, and we need to use every tool at our disposal. One source of solutions has been largely overlooked, even though it covers more than 70% of the planet: our ocean.
We can create a climate-resilient future by protecting and restoring marshes and sea grasses that sequester carbon; promoting ocean health and resilience to withstand climate impacts; scaling up offshore wind energy while phasing out offshore drilling; and reducing the stress we place on the ocean from pollution and overfishing.
This bill includes the ocean as an important part of the climate solution by:
The bill supports transition to a clean energy economy by scaling up offshore wind energy and supporting the development of other renewable energy sources in the ocean. It would also prohibit any new oil and gas exploration and development on the Outer Continental Shelf, a necessary step to moving away from fossil fuels and protecting the ocean and coastal habitats that are important to healthy fish, marine wildlife, and coastal economies.
Protecting blue carbon
The bill will increase carbon storage in “blue carbon ecosystems” like marshes, sea grasses, and mangroves that absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and safely store it at a rate of up to four times that of forests on land. It would support efforts to understand, map, protect and restore these ecosystems, with priority for projects that would protect fish and wildlife habitat and benefit lower income communities.
In addition to providing important climate mitigation benefits, blue carbon ecosystems are critical because they can protect coastal communities by limiting the impacts of coastal erosion, flooding, and storms—all while providing habitat for marine wildlife and fisheries.
Increasing protected areas
The bill will increase marine protected areas by setting a goal to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. A new task force would submit a plan to Congress with an inventory of existing MPAs and new areas that deserve additional protection. The bill would also initiate the designation process for successful marine sanctuaries and increase protections for deep sea corals.
These actions are more critical than ever in the face of the biodiversity crisis. A recent UN biodiversity report shows just how we urgently need to up our ambition to stem global extinctions. Marine protected areas, like our protected areas on land, are a key part of the path forward.
Improving fisheries management
The bill would support the development and implementation of strategies to improve the management of fisheries as they are impacted by climate change. We know that overfishing can exacerbate the impacts of climate change, while healthy fisheries are better able to adapt. And we know that fish need protected habitats in the places where they spawn and grow.
The bill also promotes eating American seafood that is environmentally or climate-friendly, or from well-managed but less-known species.
These measures will help rebuild thriving fisheries across America that are more resilient to climate change.
Promoting coastal resiliency
The bill promotes coastal resiliency and adaptation to protect our coasts from the climate impacts we can’t avoid. In addition to supporting grants and research, it authorizes $3 billion to support shovel-ready coastal restoration projects with priority to projects that help stimulate the economy, provide jobs for workers affected by COVID-19, and assist communities of color, as well as low-income, Tribal, and rural communities.
This kind of investment in coastal restoration and resilience is a win-win-win for our economy, our frontline communities, and our environment.
Addressing ocean health
The bill will address ocean health challenges that hurt the seafood, recreation, and tourism industries. The bill seeks to coordinate federal research, improve monitoring and ocean observation, and offer prizes to advance understanding of ocean acidification. The bill makes harmful algal blooms eligible for federal disaster relief and emergency assistance. It also requires a harmful algal blooms and hypoxia assessment and action plan for South Florida, where climate change and nutrient pollution are combining to cause more frequent and intense harmful algal blooms.
These actions will support healthy ocean systems, which are better able to adapt to the effects of climate change. This is important to the Healthy Oceans Coalition and the future of our blue planet.
A recent scientific review shows that the ocean could be restored in as little as 30 years if we mitigate major pressures like climate change. The Ocean Climate Solutions Act will help us get there. What are we waiting for?