Ocean acidification could cost the world up to $1 trillion annually, warns UN report
Friday, October 10, 2014, 1:30 PM - At the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity meeting earlier this week, scientists sounded the alarm about the potentially devastating impact of ocean acidification - global warming's 'evil twin' - and the billions, if not trillions of dollars it could cost the world economy every year by the end of this century.
Although ocean acidification has been called global warming's evil twin, they really should be referred to as partners in crime. Both consequences of the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, neither is expected to be beneficial for us or many other species of life on this planet. Carbon dioxide traps more heat in the atmosphere, which adds more energy to our weather patterns and disrupts the climate system, but it also gets absorbed by the oceans. There, it combines with sea water to form carbonic acid, which is slowly changing the acidity level of the ocean from slightly alkaline towards neutral. That may not seem like a big problem, but many forms of life in the ocean depend on that 'slightly alkaline' environment to form their shells and skeletons, and for proper reproduction.
According to this UN report, delivered the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the world's oceans has risen by around 26 per cent since pre-industrial times. This has caused the ocean's pH level to drop from 8.2 down to 8.1, and if we continue to release billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere that amount will continue to rise and the pH of the ocean water will continue to drop. As the video below shows, just that 0.1 pH difference over the past 150 years or so has been enough to 'tip the scales' of the mineral balance in the water, to a point where the ocean environment is on the cusp between shell building and shell dissolving.
CLICK BELOW TO WATCH: "For pteropods, corals, and other species that depend on shells and exoskeletons, ocean acidification will lead to a decreasing availability of dissolved calcium and carbonate, the chemical building blocks they use to make their shells and skeletons."
"When ecosystems stop delivering the way they should, they essentially deliver less services and less benefits," said Salvatore Arico, the Programme Specialist for Biodiversity at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), according to a UN statement. "In the case of coral reefs, those systems are essential for people’s livelihoods in many regions of the world and they will be significantly affected."
"While $1 trillion may sound like a huge figure, but we need to consider the benefits derived from marine biodiversity to many major industries," Arico added. "Ocean acidification will greatly affect food security in the coming years, as well as tourism and other industries such as the pharmaceutical industry which relies on many marine organisms."
The report emphasizes that the ocean acidification that we've already caused by the added carbon dioxide is 'damage done' and cannot be reversed. However, slowing our release of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning, and eventually stopping altogether, will also slow and then halt this continued acidification of the oceans. This will, at the very least, help us to avoid the worst impacts to our global economy and our way of life.