Healthy oceans matter


Sustainably managing the world's sea areas will help preserve marine ecosystems and fight climate change and biodiversity loss

The whole world has been overwhelmed by the urgent challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. But while this crisis is preoccupying the world, there are graver long-term risks from climate change and biodiversity loss that should not be ignored.

More and more countries have committed to carbon neutrality, and a carbon-neutral future points to a vision of the future in which humans live in harmony with nature.

Oceans are a dominant feature of our planet, covering 70 percent of its surface and driving its climate and biosphere. But the world's oceans are in peril from human activities and climate change. Urgent action is required to put the oceans on the path to recovery. Healthy oceans matter.

The newly released Guidance on Integrating and Strengthening Efforts Related to Climate Change and Ecological Protection by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China explicitly emphasizes the synergy of marine and coastal ecological conservation and restoration with climate change adaptation.

China has invested heavily in marine science over the past few decades and has also strengthened its regulations to manage its waters.

Since the 1980s, the number of marine protected areas (MPAs) in China has grown rapidly. By the end of 2019, China had established 271 MPAs, mostly located in coastal waters, with a total area of about 124,000 square kilometers, accounting for 4.1 percent of the marine area under its jurisdiction.

While China is moving toward a protected area system based on national parks, both the scale and quality of the MPAs need to be enhanced. The further investment in science should better support the designation and management of domestic MPAs and contribute to MPAs in international waters.

As the biggest consumer and processor of seafood and the country with the largest aquaculture industry, China needs to reform its fishing industry for the industry's quality-oriented growth.

Stricter rules have been issued to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In 2020, there were several such allegations against China in waters beyond its jurisdiction, and there was a firm response from the Chinese authorities, indicating its resolve to curb such activities. China's fishery authorities have introduced hard-hitting punishments for illegal fishing by the country's distant water fishing vessels.

The white paper on the Compliance of China's Distant Water Fisheries 2020, released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China, is a strong statement of China's principles, positions, policies and measures on the management of pelagic fisheries and the effectiveness of its implementation, while China is also actively seeking the ratification of the Port State Measure Agreement. It will take some time to have a pronounced effect, but China seems to be on the right track.

Limiting fishing is critical for the quality of the ocean ecosystems. Input control, seasonal bans and fishery subsidy reforms are the main tools applied. The white paper on the Compliance of China's Distant Water Fisheries 2020 has called for the integration of climate risk management into fishery decisions, which indicates that more precaution is being taken into account.

We can develop solutions to preserve the environment and fight climate change by sustainably managing the oceans. While China is pioneering the discussion of nature-based solutions, more attention and confidence is needed on ocean-based mitigation options and their potential contribution to closing the emissions gap.

Five opportunities for action were raised in the report Ocean as a Solution to Climate Change released by the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, a unique initiative established in September 2018 by 14 world leaders. Among them, ocean-based renewable energy is no doubt central to China, as its research on coastal and marine ecosystems and carbon storage in the seabed is increasing.

The sustainable blue economy foresees economic opportunities and emerging trends in the decades ahead, including the greening of shipping, offshore renewable energy, carbon sequestration, eco-friendly tourism, use of genetic marine resources, sustainable aquaculture and the development of new types of marine food. As long as there is a clear policy framework, strong incentives and high environmental and social standards, investing in a sustainable ocean economy will lead to the integration of economic, social, environmental and climate impacts.

The impact sessions during the Davos Agenda Week 2021-Shaping a New Ocean Economy, which are associated with the Friends of Ocean Action and Sustainable Development Investment Partnership of the World Economic Forum-are aimed at exploring the policies, practices and partnerships that are needed, from ocean finance to coastal resilience measures, and to build back a more just and resilient ocean economy.

A healthy ocean economy is particularly important for China, a rapidly growing maritime power, with a coastline of 18,000km, and a country that will play a critical role in the journey to carbon neutrality.

To further enable the role of oceans in a carbon-neutral future, China needs a more robust science and precaution-based, decision-making process for domestic and international policies. It is also important to have smoother cross-sector coordination at all levels through legislation and marine spatial planning.

The Guidance on Integrating and Strengthening Efforts Related to Climate Change and Ecological Protection is a great step forward, and more joint policies and actions are expected.

Xie Xi is project leader of Friends of Ocean Action of China at the World Economic Forum's Beijing Representative Office. Chen Jiliang is a senior researcher of Greenovation Hub. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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