Two Emerging Ocean-Climate Actions Needed in 2021

Behavior Blog

February 24, 2021

You can’t protect the ocean without solving climate change, and you can’t solve climate change without protecting the ocean.”John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, at the recent Ocean Climate Ambition Summit

2020 was supposed to be nature’s super year. Instead, it’s the year in which many things went away: in-person global meetings, family gatherings, air travel. But what has remained is the urgent need to address climate change and ocean health.

Cue 2021. Are you the new super year? I’m cautiously hopeful. So far, 2021 has seen green recovery to COVID-19 added to its long list of global challenges alongside climate change, biodiversity loss, oceans degradation, and unsustainable development. We have also seen the growing ocean-climate drumbeat at the most recent Ocean Climate Ambition Summit, multiple papers calling for action (like this one co-authored by Rare and ones below), and pleas from global leaders like John Kerry and Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin to take immediate and meaningful action.

Considering this momentum, I have renamed 2021 “The Year of Ambitious Climate Action,” and I’ll be keeping an eye on two emerging ocean-climate topics:

  1. Changing Behaviors to Protect the Ocean and Tackle Climate Change

Rare uses behavioral and social science and fisheries and climate data to empower marginalized coastal fishers—our ocean’s stewards—to balance effective protection with sustainable production. We need such a combination to enhance communities’ resilience to climate impacts while protecting the ocean. In a new paper on opportunities for ocean-based climate action, Rare and partners explore four areas critical for mitigating and adapting to climate change. And in the new report, The Science of Changing Behavior for Environmental Outcomes, Rare analyzes behavior change interventions that tackle components of leading environmental challenges, like climate change and biodiversity conservation. It provides a framework for considering how to use behavior change more effectively for environmental outcomes. Using these and other tools, like behavior-centered design, will be critical for addressing behavior change for climate and ocean change.

  1. Racing toward Resilience and Adaptation

Nature’s role in mitigating and adapting to climate change has gained necessary momentum in recent years. This year, I expect the global ocean-climate community to focus on nature-based solutions (NbS) related to adaptation and resilience. NbS are critical for climate action, sustainable development, and now—a green recovery. One of our paper‘s key measures for climate action and enhanced ambition is the need to foster ecosystem-based resilience by protecting and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems. Ambitious adaptation actions could include smartly designed, well-enforced, and well-managed conservation or sustainable-use areas like MPAs or other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). We can expect the ocean-climate ambition drumbeat to continue through the next UNFCCC with its Race to Resilience and other actions.

An ambitious plan without action is not enough; we must push for both. Implementing climate and ocean commitments in Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans, and other ocean-climate or biodiversity policies is key to advancing our global goals. But policy frameworks like the Paris Agreement are only as good as the local and sub-national level action to implement them. We’ll need increased political will, community engagement, and ocean-climate finance to achieve these goals.

2021 can still be the super year for ambitious global ocean-climate action. 2020 was challenging and devastating for us all in different ways, yet it also unexpectedly created a collective action call. No one can take away the meaningful progress made to date —nor can they take away my hope for real action this year.

Not even you, 2020.