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Oceans and climate

Fishermen on the coast of Senegal

The world’s oceans cover about two thirds of the surface area of our planet. They are a key component of the global ecosystem and they are essential for people’s lives and livelihoods, thus making them important also for the development of poor countries.

Climate change and the rise in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide have an influence on and pose a burden for oceanic ecosystems. Extreme weather events and the gradual changes that are taking place, such as rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and acidification of the oceans, are throwing these highly sensitive coastal and maritime ecosystems, such as coral reefs or mangrove forests, off balance.

In the 21st century, the oceans will continue to warm up, whilst the greatest increase in sea level is predicted to occur in tropical and sub-tropical regions. This will mean a fall in the level of oxygen in the water. That in turn poses a threat to fish stocks and increases the danger of so-called "death zones”, where scarcely any life can exist.

Also, as the oceans become warmer, thermal expansion occurs, causing a rise in sea levels. The melting of glaciers as a result of climate change further exacerbates this effect. Sea levels already rose by about 20 centimetres in the 20th century – and the rate at which they are rising is increasing all the time. By the end of the 21st century, if the same high levels of greenhouse gases continue to be emitted, the sea level is expected to rise by more than 60 centimetres. The only way this can be combatted is if there is a massive reduction in emissions very soon.

Infographic on the topic of "Oceans and climate"

Marine and coastal ecosystems are important for climate protection

The oceans exercise an important function in regulating global temperatures. They absorb a sizeable proportion of the carbon dioxide emissions that human beings produce. Over the last 40 years they have absorbed 93 per cent of this additional heat.

Meanwhile, coastal ecosystems like the mangrove forests in the tidal areas of tropical coastlines absorb and bind between three and five times as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as inland forest ecosystems.

Mangroves also protect coastal zones from the consequences of extreme weather events like hurricanes and reduce coastal erosion. Hence they have an important task to fulfil in connection with adapting to the impacts of climate change. Their role notwithstanding, worldwide almost half of all mangrove forests have been destroyed since the middle of the 20th century, for example by being converted into shrimp farms.

Humanity depends on functioning ecosystems. An important prerequisite for that is the protection and sustainable use of biological diversity. This is crucial if development and adaptation options for ecosystems are to be kept open. Given that climate change is putting considerable pressure on the adaptation capacities and possibilities of all organisms, these adaptation options are urgently needed.

If greenhouse gas emissions remain at their present level, then according to United Nations estimates, fish production will fall by between seven and twelve per cent between now and 2050.

A farmer with mangrove seeds and seedlings

International efforts to protect the oceans

The protection and the sustainable use of oceans and coastlines in times of climate change have received increased international attention in recent years. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development dedicates one whole sustainability goal (SDG 14) to "Life below water”. The acidification of the oceans is addressed as a separate sub-objective (SDG 14.3):

The 2015 Paris climate agreement also accords an important role to protecting the oceans. This task has likewise been accorded special significance in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): more than 80 countries have included fisheries and aquaculture in their NDCs.

The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 (including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) forms the framework for the protection and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity. Of particular relevance here are the targets Fisheries (6), Coral reefs (10) and Protected areas (11).

However, further research needs to be done into how climate change is threatening the oceans and the implications for the future. That is why we cannot precisely say today what it will mean, for example, for the overall ecosystem if certain species become extinct. More scientific cooperation at all levels is therefore urgently needed. And there must be integrated approaches aimed at protecting the climate and maritime ecosystems, and at developing concepts for sustainable use.

Wave in the Atlantic

German activities

Over two thirds of the partner countries where Germany is engaged in a range of development cooperation activities are island or coastal nations. Well over half of the world’s population is already living in coastal regions; by 2020 that figure will probably have risen to nearly two thirds.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has drawn up a Ten-point Plan of Action, published in 2016, with the title "Marine Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries”. The Plan sets out how the BMZ is stepping up its engagement in activities aimed at conserving marine and coastal habitats for future generations and using them in a sustainable way.

The priorities of the German programmes are:

  • ​marine conservation and coastal protection in order to preserve biological diversity and ecosystem services,
  • ​making sustainable use of the oceans for food and nutrition security,
  • ​reducing marine pollution, and
  • ​supporting adaptation to climate change efforts aimed at protecting people living in coastal regions.

At present, projects comprising a total of more than 400 million euros are contributing to the implementation of the 10-point plan.

Wave in the Atlantic

More marine and coastal protection areas

Between 2015 and 2020, the BMZ will massively increase the overall total of marine protected areas that it is helping to support. The BMZ will do this by supporting the designation of new protected areas, strengthening the administrations of the protected areas and improving their financial security through sustainable financing instruments.

An important aspect in all of this is ensuring the balance of interests between protection and use, and making sure that sufficient attention is paid to the rights and needs of women and girls, indigenous and local communities, and poor and especially vulnerable people.

The BMZ is helping to provide effective protection for at least ten per cent of marine areas worldwide by 2020. This is the goal that the international community has set for itself in both the Convention on Biological Diversity and the 2030 Agenda. Right now only just under seven per cent of these areas are protected.

Soft corals and Sea Fans

The Blue Action Fund – a trust fund dedicated to marine conservation

In order to establish marine conservation networks and secure their sustainable financial administration, at the end of 2016 the BMZ, in cooperation with KfW Entwicklungsbank, founded the Blue Action Fund, with an endowment that has now reached 44 million euros. In September 2017, Sweden joined the Fund, adding five million euros to the total volume of commitments.

The Blue Action Fund supports the work being done by national and international non-governmental organisations in connection with coastal and marine conservation, and promotes the conservation of marine biodiversity through the designation of new protected areas and the better management of existing areas. Furthermore, the Fund supports the sustainable use of marine biodiversity through measures concerned with fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.

Launch of the Blue Action Fund. From left to right: Stephan Opitz (KfW), Ingrid Hoven (head of department BMZ), David Morrison (Blue Action Fund), Development Minister Gerd Müller

Making sustainable use of the oceans, permanently ensuring food security

Worldwide, more than three billion people get an average of 20 per cent of the animal protein they need from fish. In many developing countries the percentage is considerably higher. However, 90 per cent of global fish stocks have already been overfished or exploited up to their limits. The impacts of climate change on the oceans will exacerbate this situation, especially in developing countries. If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate, then it is likely that marine fish production will fall by seven to twelve per cent.

The BMZ supports sustainable artisanal fisheries and aquaculture, alongside sustainable and socially responsible processing and marketing of fish. The activities in which the BMZ is engaged also include measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Swarm of fish (goldband fusiliers) in Papua New Guinea

Supporting adaptation to climate change

Climate change is responsible, among other things, for the increase in the frequency and the intensity of storms and flooding, increased salination of soils and the rise in sea levels.

More than 600 million people live in low-lying coastal zones and are directly affected by these phenomena. Sixty-two per cent of all megacities with more than eight million inhabitants are in coastal zones.

Early warning systems are an effective means of reducing the damage caused by storms. With the support of the scientific community, the BMZ is helping with the further development of such early warning systems in combination with coastal protection and urban development programmes, and is spearheading efforts to integrate flood control and disaster risk reduction into development planning.

Save our Mangroves now!

Healthy mangrove ecosystems can dissipate wave energy and thus reduce the negative impacts of storms and of rising sea levels. People in developing countries who live near the coast are dependent on intact mangrove ecosystems. At the same time, mangroves store carbon dioxide and thus help to mitigate climate change.

Together with the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the BMZ launched the initiative "SAVE OUR MANGROVES NOW!"

The initiative is about acting to stop the progressive global loss of mangroves. This is to be achieved by giving better protection to mangroves, replanting forests that have been lost and raising awareness about the importance of mangroves.

Mangrove seedling in a mangrove tree nursery in Beira, Mozambique
  • Coastal villages in the Mekong delta are suffering more and more from flooding due to climate change, particularly, where the mangrove forests have disappeared.
    Viet Nam: cooperation in action

    Mangroves: the all-round solution for coastal, climate and environmental protection

    Thanks to their dense tangle of roots, mangrove trees are ideally suited for the protection of tropical coasts.

  • Caribbean beach
    Caribbean: Cooperation in action

    Conserving biodiversity in the Caribbean – on land and at sea

    The natural riches of the Caribbean are unique. The United Nations calls the region a "biodiversity superpower". However, that biodiversity is in danger because all too often not enough attention is being paid to preserving it.

Coastal villages in the Mekong delta are suffering more and more from flooding due to climate change, particularly, where the mangrove forests have disappeared.
Viet Nam: cooperation in action

Mangroves: the all-round solution for coastal, climate and environmental protection

Thanks to their dense tangle of roots, mangrove trees are ideally suited for the protection of tropical coasts. A strip of mangroves just 100 metres wide is enough to make a decisive difference in weakening the destructive force of storms or even tsunamis.

Mangroves are "all-rounders". They not only slow down storms, they also slow down the erosion caused by rising sea levels. They can absorb between three and five times as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as inland forests and by binding it in their leaves and branches they very effectively reduce the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In addition, these coastal forests are a nutrient-rich habitat and spawing ground for countless species of fish, crustaceans and many other organisms. Thus, they help conserve biodiversity and serve as an important source of food and income for people living close to them.

At the moment mangrove forests still cover about 15 million hectares of land along the tropical coasts. However, in many regions their continued existence is threatened by logging. Together with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and various other non-governmental organisations, the BMZ has been supporting a new mangrove protection initiative since 2017. The previously scattered knowledge about these special habitats will be compiled in a central archive, and best practices for the protection, regeneration and further development of mangrove forests will be applied.

In the Mekong Delta the BMZ is supporting the planting of 46,000 hectares of new coastal forest in Viet Nam up to 2020. The results have been so impressive that the Vietnamese authorities and international organisations are now using the same methods to protect other endangered coastlines. A detailed description of the programme (in German) can be found here.

Caribbean beach
Caribbean: cooperation in action

Conserving biodiversity in the Caribbean – on land and at sea

The natural riches of the Caribbean are unique. The United Nations calls the region a "biodiversity superpower". However, that biodiversity is in danger because all too often not enough attention is being paid to preserving it. The Caribbean and its 12,000 species is a global key region for marine biodiversity. Misuse of its resources, climate change and acidification of its waters are threatening the region’s continued existence. The coral reefs of the eastern Caribbean around the Lesser Antilles, for example, count as one of the most damaged and endangered marine ecosystems in the world. Over the last 30 years the area they cover has shrunk by nearly a third.

This biological diversity is also an important economic factor, including for ecotourism and for fisheries. The danger comes from over-exploitation due to the unchecked building of new infrastructure, deforestation and land use, the discharge of untreated wastewater into the ocean, overfishing and unsustainable forms of tourism. The progressive degradation of the area’s natural resources is depriving large numbers of the population of the basis for their livelihoods and making them more vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Furthermore, the islands of the Caribbean, situated just on the edge of the storm-swept Atlantic Ocean, are particularly affected by the impacts of climate change. Extreme weather events are literally eating away the coastlines of the many, often small, islands – as we saw once again with Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Floods and storms destroy not only roads and houses but also agricultural land. Furthermore, since 1980, one third of the coral reefs which are located off the coasts of these islands, forming an important natural barrier against incoming waves and storm surges, have disappeared.

Supported by the German government, the governments of eight Caribbean countries are working with representatives from local businesses and civil society on an ambitious programme to conserve biodiversity.

Detailed information about the programme can be found here in our special feature on biodiversity.

Destroyed road in the Caribbean

Video: Mozambique - coastal protection in Beira

Mozambique is already affected by the consequences of climate change, such as severe flooding. Germany supports the country in preventive measures. (Video in German)

Oceans and climate

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