By Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., Deputy Director for Climate and Environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
This week, the world celebrates World Ocean Day. If you ask ten people what the ocean means to them, you’ll likely get ten answers: Fun. Family. Food. Discovery. Adventure. Freedom. Relaxation. Solace. Identity. Jobs. The ocean is all that, but so much more. It is our past, our present, and the key to our future.
The ocean plays a central role in our daily lives. It sustains and connects us. It provides half of Earth’s oxygen and supplies an important source of protein and key nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and iodine for more than 3 billion people. And it transports around 90 percent of internationally traded goods (expected to triple by 2050). The ocean has buffered humanity from the worst impacts of climate change by absorbing around 25 percent of the excess carbon dioxide emitted since the Industrial Revolution and capturing 90 percent of the excess heat from those emissions.
Climate change and intensified uses of the ocean are taking a serious toll on the health of the ocean, with profound consequences for people. A warmer, more acidified, and overfished ocean means sea level rise, bleached coral reefs, disrupted fisheries, harmful algal blooms, and disease outbreaks. These in turn trigger food insecurity, greater susceptibility to disasters, poorer health, civil strife, and economic disruption.
However, science shows us that the ocean is not solely a victim of climate change and overexploitation, but also a powerful source of solutions to reverse nature loss, tackle climate change and food insecurity, and improve human health, economic prosperity, environmental justice and national security. Indeed, flipping the script of the ocean is key to a vibrant future. That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration is acting with purpose and ambition to promote better care of the ocean and coasts, as articulated in the President’s Proclamation on National Ocean Month.
This week, coinciding with Capitol Hill Ocean Week—the annual gathering of the ocean community in Washington, D.C.— the Biden-Harris Administration announced its $2.6 billion framework through the Investing in America Agenda to protect coastal communities and restore marine resources. The framework focuses on people on the frontlines of climate change and represents an historic direct investment in climate resilience. Also this week, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Environmental Quality announced an invitation to the public to help shape a new Ocean Justice Strategy that will guide ocean justice activities across the Federal government.
The U.S. Ocean Climate Action Plan, released earlier this year, charts a course to generate clean energy, provide good-paying jobs, restore the resilience of coastal and ocean ecosystems, and enhance coastal community resilience. It blends climate mitigation and adaptation, technological and nature-based solutions, and ocean and land-based actions. The Investing in America Agenda, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, provides the means to support local communities in implementing many ocean-based solutions. And the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and the new U.N. Ocean Climate Dialogue provide partnerships and platforms for working internationally.
The Biden-Harris Administration is integrating ocean solutions into many key spheres. Because economic prosperity depends upon a healthy ocean, putting nature—including the ocean—on the economic balance sheet provides a powerful way to align short- and long-term incentives. At the global level, the newly announced G7 Alliance for Nature-Positive Economies reflects a growing appetite to center nature and the ocean as we work to build economic prosperity. And to consider how to achieve multiple ocean objectives from climate solutions and economic prosperity to environmental justice and national security, we will soon issue a call for public input to shape a National Strategy for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.
These actions reflect an understanding that the ocean is not only our past and our present, but also our future—should we choose to embrace the challenges and benefit from the outcomes. There is no path to a healthy and livable future without a resilient ocean. The ocean is not too big to fail, nor is it too big to fix; but it is too central to our future to ignore.
And so, on World Ocean Day and throughout the year, as you relish what the ocean provides, consider ways in which we can collectively Seas the Day and accelerate local to global actions to restore the health of the ocean and use it sustainably for a vibrant future.