Climate change and the oceans Navigating in troubled waters

Climate change and the oceans: Navigating in troubled waters

A new report from the IPCC details the extent to which the oceans are already being affected by global warming and calls for urgent action from industry, governments and activists to reduce emissions.

Oceans and seas around the world are warming up and seeing increasing surface acidification; marine biodiversity stands threatened and marine heatwaves are intensifying; mean sea levels are rising due to ice loss in Greenland and the Antarctic.

These are not scenes from the future, but a sneak peek into what global warming has already done to marine environments according to a long-anticipated report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), which was released on 25 September, confirmed much of what is already known about the impact of climate change on oceans, and increased the sense of urgency with which policymakers and businesses and individuals should act to address the challenges.

“The latest IPCC report on the state of our oceans and cryosphere is the clearest affirmation yet that climate change is affecting our planet,” says Roger Holm, President, Marine Business and Executive Vice President, Wärtsilä Corporation.

According to the SROCC report, marine heatwaves are projected to further increase in frequency, duration, spatial extent and intensity. The report states: “The increased and extreme sea level, along with ocean warming and acidification, are projected to exacerbate risks for human communities in low-lying coastal areas and will affect bio diversity, ecosystems, income, livelihoods, and food security of marine resource-dependent communities.”

It projects that Arctic marine ecosystems will continue to face risks and see livelihoods impacted. Regions including Central Europe, the Caucasus, North Asia, Scandinavia, the tropical Andes, Mexico, eastern Africa and Indonesia are likely to lose more than 80% of their current ice mass by 2100.

Stemming the tide

The IPCC report calls for implementing effective responses to climate-related changes in the ocean and cryosphere by intensifying cooperation and coordination among governing authorities across spatial scales and planning horizons. It states: “enabling climate resilience and sustainable development depends critically on urgent and ambitious emissions reductions coupled with coordinated sustained and increasingly ambitious adaptation actions.”

The shipping industry can play a significant role in helping abate climate-related changes in oceans and the cryosphere. Shipping is responsible for 2–3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set a target for the sector to bring sulphur emissions down from the current 3.5% to 0.5% by 2020. It has also asked the industry to cut down GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 from 2008 levels and reduce individual vessel level emissions cuts in the region of 70% by 2050.

Holm emphasises the need for the industry to collaboratively look for ways to combat climate change.

“We have already for some time seen that we need urgent action to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. As an industry, we must collectively move forward with a sympathetic response to the world and find smarter ways of doing business across our oceans. This must be our shared frame of reference,” Holm says.

Wärtsilä has made addressing the impact of climate change in the oceans a priority. The company is leading green shipping efforts with several initiatives, including the Smart Marine Ecosystem, An Oceanic Awakening, hybrid retrofit for short-sea shipping vessels and voyage optimisation to save fuel, among others. It is also promoting the use of smart technology as a way of reducing emissions through products like the Wärtsilä Navi-Planner, Smart Water & Waste Systems and Operim.

Collaborate to accelerate

But technology alone can’t solve the problems created by global warming in the oceans.

“The obstacles to achieving zero-emission shipping are not so much technological, but more related to enhanced co-operation. The shipping industry must work together to bring forward the technology and cleaner energy sources needed to enable a sustainable future for all of us,” Holm says.

The IPCC report also puts great emphasis on that point of view, highlighting the need to intensify cooperation and coordination.

“Education and climate literacy, monitoring and forecasting, use of all available knowledge sources, sharing of data, information and knowledge, finance, addressing social vulnerability and equity, and institutional support are also essential. Such investments enable capacity-building, social learning, and participation in context-specific adaptation, as well as the negotiation of trade-offs and realisation of co-benefits in reducing short-term risks and building long-term resilience and sustainability,” the report says.

Wärtsilä is jointly working with other industry players to increase collaboration to combat climate change. Programs currently underway include the Zero Emission Energy Distribution at Sea (ZEEDS) project in partnership with Kvaerner, Equinor Aker Solutions, DFDS and Grieg Star, the SEA20 initiative to develop smart marine ecosystems and the Getting to Zero coalition. The IPCC report highlights the extent to which such projects are critical for addressing the challenges climate change is already bringing to the oceans and cryosphere.

Written by
Payal Bhattar
Associate Editor at Spoon Agency