• A personal note on IGBP and the social sciences

    Humans are an integral component of the Earth system as conceptualised by IGBP. João Morais recalls key milestones in IGBP’s engagement with the social sciences and offers some words of advice for Future Earth.
  • IGBP and Earth observation:
    a co-evolution

    The iconic images of Earth beamed back by the earliest spacecraft helped to galvanise interest in our planet’s environment. The subsequent evolution and development of satellites for Earth observation has been intricately linked with that of IGBP and other global-change research programmes, write Jack Kaye and Cat Downy .
Published: April 1, 2009
First published in IGBP's Global Change Newsletter Issue 73, April 2009

The Ocean in a High-CO2 World

Features |
The Second Symposium on Ocean Acidification
James Orr together
with HSH Prince Albert of
Monaco at the Symposium.
Back in 2004 the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission held the ground breaking international symposium The Ocean in a High-CO2 World that brought ocean acidification as an important anthropogenic CO2 issue to the forefront of research. Important outputs were a report on future research needs, a communications policy, and heightened concern about the possible consequences of ocean acidification on marine organisms and the food webs that depend on them. Since then, research into ocean acidification has grown and it has been communicated so widely that it was reported as a new finding by the IPCC in their 4th Assessment on Climate Change (2007) only three years later. IGBP was one of the sponsors [1] of the 2nd symposium on The Ocean in a High-CO2 World held on 6-9 October 2008 at the Oceanography Museum of Monaco under the High Patronage of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II.  The increase in sponsors itself is an indicator of the growing concern of the international science community.
James C. Orr
Chair of the International Organising Committee of the Second Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World
International Atomic Energy Agency’s  Marine Environment Laboratories

Carol Turley
Former IMBER SSC Member
Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Plymouth, UK

The meeting doubled the attendance of 2004, bringing together 220 scientists from 32 countries to reveal what we now know about the impacts of ocean acidification on marine chemistry and ecosystems, to assess these impacts for policy makers, and to decide what the future research needs are. The three science days reported on what had been learned in the last four years from all aspects of this rapidly emerging research issue — from future scenarios of ocean acidification, effects of changes in seawater chemistry on nutrient and metal speciation, palaeo-oceanographic perspectives, mechanisms of calcification, impacts on benthic and pelagic calcifiers, physiological effects from microbes to fish, adaptation and micro-evolution, fisheries and food webs, impacts on biogeochemical cycling and feedbacks to the climate systems. The science days consisted of invited and submitted papers, discussion sessions on future research priorities and a large poster display, all of which offered an intensive symposium in the wonderful Oceanography Museum, set high over Monaco overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and close to numerous restaurants where discussions continued on into the evening. A Report on Research Priorities has been completed and a subset of the science results from the Symposium will be reported in a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Biogeosciences.

On the fourth day there was a session for policy makers and the press which consisted of a summary of the science findings from the symposium, and presentations on the potential socio-economic impact of ocean acidification and on engaging with policy makers. To better achieve this, in addition to the science outputs, a Summary for Policymakers is being prepared. HSH Prince Albert II not only supported the Symposium, but also addressed those present, recognizing the important scientific challenges of ocean acidification and called on climate change policy makers all over the world to recognize that CO2 emissions must be reduced urgently and drastically in order to prevent serious impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms, food webs and ecosystems.

Rather than alleviate the concerns that emerged from the meeting four years ago, the symposium brought home our worst fears about how serious the issue of ocean acidification is, and will be, as we continue burning fossil fuels. It was recognized that marine scientists of all disciplines must convince the climate change negotiators to take ocean acidification seriously, particularly in this important year when negotiations at COP-15 [2] take place in Copenhagen in December. A suggestion from the floor that we produce a conference declaration, was widely supported.

The Monaco Declaration has been carefully crafted based on the symposium findings, and was launched on 30 January 2009, receiving wide media coverage. It has been signed by 155 of the conference participants. If you have five minutes, read it, if not read the extracts below:

Ocean acidification is underway … is already detectable … is accelerating and severe damages are imminent …  will have socioeconomic impacts … is rapid, but recovery will be slow. … Ocean acidification can be controlled only by limiting future atmospheric CO2 levels.  

Despite a seemingly bleak outlook, there remains hope. We have a choice, and there is still time to act if serious and sustained actions are initiated without further delay. First and foremost, policymakers need to realize that ocean acidification is not a peripheral issue. It is the other CO2 problem that must be grappled with alongside climate change. Reining in this double threat, caused by our dependence on fossil fuels, is the challenge of the century. Solving this problem will require a monumental world-wide effort. All countries must contribute, and developed countries must lead by example and by engineering new technologies to help solve the problem. Promoting these technologies will be rewarded economically, and prevention of severe environmental degradation will be far less costly for all nations than would be trying to live with the consequences of the present approach where CO2 emissions and atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to increase, year after year.

Fortunately, partial remedies already on the table, if implemented together, could solve most of the problem.  We must start to act now because it will take years to change the energy infrastructure and to overcome the atmosphere’s accumulation of excess CO2, which takes time to invade the ocean.

Therefore, we urge policymakers to launch four types of initiatives:

  • to help improve understanding of impacts of ocean acidification by promoting research in this field, which is still in its infancy;
  • to help build links between economists and scientists that are needed to evaluate the socioeconomic extent of impacts and costs for action versus inaction;
  • to help improve communication between policymakers and scientists so that i) new policies are based on current findings and ii) scientific studies can be widened to include the most policy-relevant questions; and
  • to prevent severe damages from ocean acidification by developing ambitious, urgent plans to cut emissions drastically.

An example to illustrate the intense effort needed:
To stay below an atmospheric CO2 level of 550 ppm, the current increase in total CO2 emissions of 3% per year must be reversed by 2020. Even steeper reductions will be needed to keep most polar waters from becoming corrosive to the shells of key marine species and to maintain favourable conditions for coral growth. If negotiations at COP-15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 fall short of these objectives, still higher atmospheric CO2 levels will be inevitable.

1. The symposium was again sponsored by SCOR and IOC-UNESCO as well as the IAEA-Marine Environment Laboratories and IGBP. Additionally, it was supported financially by the Prince Albert II Foundation, the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, the North Pacific Marine Science Organization, the Oceanography Museum, and the Monaco Government.  

2. The overall goal for the 2009 (COP15) United Nations Climate Change Conference is to establish an ambitious global climate agreement for the period from 2012. COP stands for Conference of Parties and is the highest body of the United Nations Climate Change Convention consisting of environment ministers who meet once a year to discuss the convention’s developments. Ministers and officials from around 189 countries and participants from a large number of organizations will take part.

Products from the Symposium
IGBP’s research on ocean acidification is conducted in collaboration with SCOR, primarily by IGBP Core Projects SOLAS, IMBER and PAGES. The Second Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World, in collaboration with SCOR, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), resulted in a number of products, aimed at different audiences:
  • Research priorities report on ocean acidification
  • The Monaco Declaration
  • A special issue of the journal Biogeosciences
  • Oceanography magazine article (in preparation)
  • Press Releases
  • Fact Sheet
  • Summary for Policymakers (in preparation)

All publications, when completed, are available from http://ioc3.unesco.org/oanet/HighCO2World.html and can be accessed from the “Ocean in a High CO2 World” page of the portal www.ocean-acidification.net

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