Obligations for politics and society

Fossil fuels are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Both are not only drivers of climate change but also cause ocean acidification. Knowledge of natural scientific facts on sea and climate alone however does not trigger sufficient motivation in society, businesses and politics to reduce their emissions. In the context of BIOACID, this phenomenon has been broadly evaluated in the light of different behavioural science branches. Oftentimes, short-term self-interest stands in the way of taking action. But also, emotional factors such as convenience, habits and the difficulties to experience complex and distant processes like climate change and ocean acidification as urgent issues are relevant. Social transformation towards sustainable lifestyles and economies will only succeed if all stakeholder groups interact. Getting used to new conceptions of normality is of particular importance. The usual emissions-intensive lifestyle in industrialised countries and increasingly in developing countries has to be put on the spot.

Citizens, enterprises and politics must be aware, that the problems will not be solved by just shifting them e.g. to different water bodies when the sea is overfished. Equally, it is not useful to reduce emissions in Europe, when consumption goods produced abroad (including their emissions) will be imported here. Ocean acidification and climate change therefore are feature examples of truly global problems: Purely national strategies will definitely not suffice to solve them.

Starting there, BIOACID research was done to explore options for effective ocean acidification policies. One of those will induce a fast phase-out of fossil fuels, because of their significant role in creating the problem. The most effective mechanism for that is to define clear political steps to eliminate fossil fuels used for power, heating, fuels and industrial use (such as fertiliser) from the market by implementing a mechanism for quantity control. This would mean a drastically reformed EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Different from the current scheme, all sectors would need to be included. Quantity limits need to be set a level that will lead to zero fossil fuels in a maximum of 20 years. This is as much called for by human rights (see below) as it is by Art. 2 of the Paris Climate Agreement, which has been analysed from a legal and political science perspective. The article limits global warming to well below 2 degrees below preindustrial levels. Acting on that, ocean acidification, climate change, but also pollution of air, water and soil and loss of biodiversity would all be addressed.

In general terms, international law of the sea, and nature conservation law also call for preventing the dangers of environmental problems. They can, however, not substitute the approach sketched out above. Liability law and industrial plants law will also not contribute substantial solutions for global environmental problems like ocean acidification and climate change. Even though, concrete damage can occur if fishermen harvest less fish due to ocean acidification. However, these damages cannot be traced back correctly to the individual emitters.

Besides the aforementioned international climate and nature conservation law, human rights – also analysed in the scope of BIOACID – call for effective political measures against global dangers to the environment, such as ocean acidification and climate change. Because human rights also imply the right to the elementary preconditions of freedom such as access to food, water or a stable climate. Protection of marine ecosystems falls at least partially under this category. Because ecosystem services include food supply, absorption of greenhouse gases or hosting biodiversity. These services of the sea, which are necessary for humankind to exist, are endangered by continuous ocean acidification and climate change.

Prof. Dr. Felix Ekardt | Research Unit Sustainability and Climate Policy, Leipzig/Berlin

READ MORE on www.sustainability-justice-climate.eu // NEXT: Assessing the risks of ocean acidification