Ocean acidification could cost billions

The global economy could lose up to one trillion US dollars annually by the end of the century if steps are not taken against ocean acidification, warns a new United Nations report.

The figure equates to the potential economic loss for industries linked to coral reefs alone, explains the report. Coral reefs are among the most vulnerable species to ocean acidification, which is a decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans.

Overall financial and environmental costs are still uncertain, according to the report entitled An Updated Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity and issued in Pyeongchang by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“When ecosystems stop delivering the way they should, they essentially deliver less services and less benefits. In the case of coral reefs, those systems are essential for people’s livelihoods in many regions of the world and they will be significantly affected,” said Salvatore Arico, who works in biodiversity and policy at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by a drastic increase in carbon dioxide emissions due to human activity. The report stresses that this phenomenon is occurring at unprecedented levels, threatening marine biodiversity and ultimately human society.

Higher acidity makes it harder for marine organisms like corals to calcify their shells and skeletons, which disturbs the balance of the entire ecosystem. For example, pteropods, which lots of organisms feed on, are severely threatened by ocean acidification.

The report, which was compiled by a team of 30 international experts, explains that ocean acidification has increased by around 26 per cent since pre-industrial times. It will continue to increase in the next 50 to 100 years, drastically affecting marine organisms and ecosystems as well as the goods and services they provide.

While reversing ocean acidification is impossible at this stage, it is still possible to reduce the rate of CO2 emissions and eventually halt them.

“The main challenge is to link the current knowledge on ocean acidification with the post-Kyoto negotiations on climate change,” Mr. Arico said, referring to the negotiations to be held by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima, Peru later this year.

Photo credit: See Monterey/ CC BY-NC 2.0

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