Putting a Price on the Ocean

by | May 16, 2012

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For most businesses, the environmental impact of climate change on the oceans is not a top priority. Unless your business is directly reliant on a clean and sustainable ocean, for example fisheries or cruise lines, there is little to no consideration of the havoc climate change is wreaking. Most people are at least peripherally aware of the terrestrial issues involved in climate change, du to the intensive analysis of how weather patterns will shift, the trending implications for food production, and of course documented temperature changes. As far as evaluating the effects on oceanic habitats, the discussion is mostly limited to sea level increase. However, lack of awareness doesn’t mean oceanic impacts are not immense, and far-reaching.

Thus far, the dilemma is that the very size and complexity of ocean systems has prevented an accurate valuation of oceanic degradation. Not only is this is bad news for progress in reducing impacts, it has also led to a false sense of security regarding corporate taxation structures and the necessity of building process to comply with statutory regulation. However, evaluating ocean benefits, from a monetary perspective, and correctly assessing the cost to maintain them, provides governments with factual data for allocating those costs, and enforcing their payment.

Valuing the Ocean

Although the ocean covers the majority of Earth’s surface, terrestrial issues occupy the forefront in climate change news. In this case, the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality is destroying the largely unrecognized benefits the ocean provides. Supplying fish is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to providing a food source, oceans are also a dynamic system that help control sea level rise through pack ice formation and melting. Oceans further mitigate climate change by providing a sink for carbon, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. The ocean currents are a major player in controlling global weather patterns, from one-time events like hurricanes to general patterns of rain and temperature. Finally, the oceans are a tourist boon, from cruises and snorkeling and diving expeditions to extreme adventures such as exploring the Mariana Trench. The issue is how to protect all of these benefits, when the general populace is unaware of them. And the answer, of course, is to put it in terms people can understand: money.

Ocean Value

Unlike terrestrial systems where damage can be controlled through national level regulatory effort, oceanic systems require a concerted global effort to reduce impact. Providing substantial analysis that oceanic protection should be a priority is the first step in a concerted effort. Thus far, the complexity of such analysis has hindered any firm evidence of how effective steps could be taken to prevent further ocean degradation. In recognition of the need for a realistic analysis, SEI (Stockholm Environment Institute) has undertaken a full economic valuation of the value of key ocean services. While an executive overview has already been released, the full findings of the SEI will be published in a book in June. A brief overview of the substantial findings is included below:




Valuable Data:

With budgetary concerns ranging from job creation to military investment, using the monetary impact of climate change on the world’s oceans is an excellent way to capture attention and provide a factual basis for prioritization. It also provides a tangible, measurable level of effort necessary to rectify current effects, and demonstrates the economic implications of continuing degradation. As with most social goods, it is highly likely that the anticipated cost of moderating oceanic climate change will be allocated between both private and public sectors.

While SEI’s report will face the same disparagement of validity as any other biological assessment with sweeping implications, lawmakers should take a serious look at the cost-benefit analysis it provides. Differing opinions about the effectiveness of valuing natural resources abound, but SEI has done an excellent job of taking an abstract topic and providing a realistic assessment of the oceanic outcome of climate change. Hopefully, the final report will provide a point of unification for further efforts to reduce oceanic degradation.

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