Climate Change


Human activities are one of the main causes of climate change. Such activities are affecting the oceans on a global scale and those changes are disrupting ecosystems and food webs. It is clear that ocean resources provide many benefits for mankind, but it is also clear that it is globally important to address the issues that are contributing to climate change overall.


The effects of global climate change are evident all over the world: we see it in the diminishing sea ice in the Arctic, in New England’s low-lying coastal areas and in the collapse of the sea floor in the Great Barrier Reef. Carbon dioxide levels are rising and so are sea levels. A mass migration shift is taking place, with animals and plants disappearing from some areas and appearing in others. Researchers believe that oceans are a leading indicator of climate change; through studying changes in the ocean, we can better understand the causes and effects of a changing climate.


The oceans are taking the brunt of warming in the climate system. This will cause direct physical and biogeochemical impacts. The impacts expected by 2050 include: reduced seasonal ice zones, which means the disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice; increasing stratification of ocean layers, leading to oxygen depletion and decreased nutrient cycling; increased venting of the GHG methane from the Arctic seabed; and increased incidence of anoxic and hypoxic events.


The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was released recently and it outlines ways to address global climate change. Sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies and highlight the need for addressing the risks of climate change overall. It is important today to begin limiting the effects of climate change in order to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication.


Climate change requires a collective action on a global scale, because most greenhouse gases (GHGs) accumulate over time and mix globally – and emissions by any agent, individual, community, company or country affects the planet as a whole.


The IPCC has determined that international cooperation is required to effectively mitigate GHG emissions and address other aspects of climate change. Countries’ past and future contributions to GHG accumulation in the atmosphere are different, and many countries face varying challenges in terms of addressing mitigation and adaptation.

Climate change requires a collective action on a global scale.

There is currently a push by the science community to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible. A global policy challenge has been implemented and a number of ways to curb emissions have been presented. The IPCC reported that in order to minimize the adverse impacts of climate change, we need to enact regulatory tools and financial incentives that will encourage both citizens and businesses to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.


  • Energy efficiencies – energy efficiency is the easiest path to take to remediate climate change. According to research from the McKinsey Global Institute, the projected growth in global energy demand could be cut in half by 2020 just by taking advantage of opportunities to cut waste.


  • A carbon cap and trade system – one of the policy measures already in widespread use in the Northeast and Europe is a “cap and trade” system. Researchers define a cap and trade system as, “using financial incentives to encourage companies to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit. A regulatory body sets an overall limit, or cap, on annual carbon-dioxide emissions and then assigns shares of that total to major polluters. If a company wants to emit more than its individual cap allows, it must buy emission permits from a business that is emitting less than its allotment. Over time, the pollution caps are ratcheted down, making it more costly to keep polluting, and achieving the desired reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.”


  • A carbon tax – the purpose of a carbon tax is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by making it more expensive to pollute. A carbon tax can be implemented “upstream” on oil producers or refiners or “downstream” on consumers who buy gasoline for their cars. It can be placed on selected industries, such as power plants that use fossil fuels, or implemented economy-wide on many industries.


  • Modify fuel economy standards – fuel economy standards have been set since 1973 – when they were enacted in the wake of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo to reduce fuel consumption by raising the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. Current fuel economy standards are 27.5 mpg for cars and 22 mpg for light trucks. Average fuel economy is 25 mpg across all vehicles. In 2010, the Obama administration announced new national standards that require new cars and trucks to reach an average of 35.5 mpg by 2016, a 40 percent improvement over the current level.


  • Set renewable energy standards – a number of states have adopted programs to mandate the use of renewable energy. These programs typically require energy producers to generate a given amount of power from carbonless technologies.


These are just a few of the approaches that can be used to combat climate change. Of course, the first order of business is for science to define and prove that climate change is a major player in issues such as global warming and extreme weather conditions. The oceans appear to be the first line of defense in ensuring that this takes place. At this point, much of the world has adopted a wait and see attitude. However, researchers and scientists are warning that now is not the time to wait and see: our oceans are clearly already paying the price.