Picture: Sunrise near Black Rocks. Credit: NOAA (Unsplash).

The world is undergoing a period of unprecedented warming. A critical decade now lies ahead to adapt human and natural systems and to act to keep ongoing warming below catastrophic levels. This level of climate change is currently having and will continue to have ongoing significant impacts on the ocean, marine ecosystems and linked socio-ecological systems.

Mitigation (i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions) is the frontline response and underpins a precautionary approach. Ocean-based mitigation actions have the capacity to contribute 12% of the emissions reductions required by 2030 to keep global average warming to less than 1.5C.

The nature, scope and scale of current and future ‘locked in’ climate change impacts will be extensive. This means that the human and ecological responses required to minimise ecological and societal repercussions will also be outside the bounds of previous human experience. Adaptation interventions can nonetheless be effective in reducing realised impacts. In addition to adaptation interventions, mitigation interventions will be essential to dampen the overall degree of climate change and higher-level impact pathways.

The novel scope and scale of required responses mean that there is also considerable uncertainty and risk associated with unintended consequences of responses.

In this paper, as part of the Future Seas project, the researchers built upon previous work by using a foresighting scenario analysis technique to envision two alternative possible futures for society by 2030, in the context of the challenge of climate change adaptation and mitigation. The “business-as-usual” future is expected if current trends continue, while an alternative future could be realised if society were to effectively use available data and knowledge to push as far as possible towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The researchers identified three drivers that differentiate between these alternative futures:

  • appetite for climate action,
  • handling extreme events, and
  • climate interventions.

Actions that could navigate to the sustainable future, helping to achieve “the ocean we need for the future we want” include:

  1. proactive creation and enhancement of economic incentives for mitigation and adaptation;
  2. supporting the proliferation of local initiatives to spur a global transformation;
  3. enhancing proactive coastal adaptation management;
  4. investing in research to support adaptation to emerging risks;
  5. deploying marine-based renewable energy; and
  6. deploying appropriate solar radiation management approaches to help safeguard critical ecosystems.

Paper: Trebilco, R., Fleming, A., Hobday, A.J., Melbourne-Thomas, J., Meyer, A. et al. Warming world, changing ocean: mitigation and adaptation to support resilient marine systems. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11160-021-09678-4