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Taking Action Against Ocean Acidification: A Review of Management and Policy Options

Abstract

Ocean acidification has emerged over the last two decades as one of the largest threats to marine organisms and ecosystems. However, most research efforts on ocean acidification have so far neglected management and related policy issues to focus instead on understanding its ecological and biogeochemical implications. This shortfall is addressed here with a systematic, international and critical review of management and policy options. In particular, we investigate the assumption that fighting acidification is mainly, but not only, about reducing CO2 emissions, and explore the leeway that this emerging problem may open in old environmental issues. We review nine types of management responses, initially grouped under four categories: preventing ocean acidification; strengthening ecosystem resilience; adapting human activities; and repairing damages. Connecting and comparing options leads to classifying them, in a qualitative way, according to their potential and feasibility. While reducing CO2 emissions is confirmed as the key action that must be taken against acidification, some of the other options appear to have the potential to buy time, e.g. by relieving the pressure of other stressors, and help marine life face unavoidable acidification. Although the existing legal basis to take action shows few gaps, policy challenges are significant: tackling them will mean succeeding in various areas of environmental management where we failed to a large extent so far.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    It reached 394.28 ppm in December 2012, compared to 391.83 in December 2011. See http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/ Accessed on 4 April 2012.

  2. 2.

    pH is expressed on the total scale throughout this paper.

  3. 3.

    We include Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) at the source as one of the methods available, in principle, to reduce CO2 emissions. However, discussing the specific potential, sustainability and environmental impacts of CCS is beyond the scope of this paper.

  4. 4.

    The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto protocol.

  5. 5.

    See http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/index.php.

  6. 6.

    UNFCCC, Article 2.

  7. 7.

    http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/10/hl-full.htm Accessed on 21 May 2012.

  8. 8.

    http://www.reddplusdatabase.org Accessed on 31 January 2013.

  9. 9.

    Emissions from land use and land-use change are projected to stay around current levels or to decline over this century for the four Representative Concentration Pathways, the scenarios assessed in the forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC.

  10. 10.

    Decision 1/CP.16, paragraphs 4 and 138–140: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/cop16/eng/07a01.pdf#page=2; Decision x/CP.17 para 157–167: http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/durban_nov_2011/decisions/application/pdf/cop17_lcaoutcome.pdf.

  11. 11.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6374967.stm.

  12. 12.

    Although slowing the warming effect would also slightly favour the solubility-driven oceanic uptake of CO2.

  13. 13.

    www.citepa.org.

  14. 14.

    Though lower surface temperatures lead to slightly higher solubility-driven GHG uptake by the ocean; Matthews and Caldeira 2007.

  15. 15.

    Whether this is due to acidification or not is still subject to debate. Ruesink and others (2012) conducted a re-analysis of the historical data that suggests these kinds of failures happen even in the absence of anthropogenic acidification. What matters here is that the phenomenon observed matches what can be expected to happen more frequently with on-going acidification: therefore, the example remains valid in any case to show what specific human groups can do to adapt.

  16. 16.

    http://oceanacidification.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/willapa-bay-oyster-grower-sounds-alarm-starts-hatchery-in-hawaii/ Accessed 18 July 2012.

  17. 17.

    Article 2.

  18. 18.

    LC-LP.1 (2008).

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Acknowledgments

This study was made possible by support from various funding sources, including the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) through the ‘European Project on Ocean Acidification’ (EPOCA), the ‘Mediterranean Sea acidification in a changing climate’ project (MedSeA) and the ‘Changes in carbon uptake and emissions by oceans in a changing climate’ project (CARBOCHANGE). FJ acknowledges support by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The authors wish to thank three anonymous reviewers for very detailed and helpful comments.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Billé, R., Kelly, R., Biastoch, A. et al. Taking Action Against Ocean Acidification: A Review of Management and Policy Options. Environmental Management 52, 761–779 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-013-0132-7

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Keywords

  • Ocean acidification
  • Marine ecosystems
  • Management
  • Policy
  • Resilience
  • Adaptation