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Are we prepared? The case of the disappearing fish

Rasmus Heltberg's picture

"Spectacular achievements are always preceded by unspectacular preparation." (Roger Staubach)

Warming of the oceans is one of the best known facts about global climate change. Ocean warming is already happening and is not subject to great uncertainty of predictions as far as I understand. So, is the world prepared to deal with warmer waters?

A new assessment by GEF and UNEP says that ongoing coastal warming due to climate change is degrading coastal waters and causing loss of economic, environmental, and community security. The ongoing damage to marine life from warming waters add to an already complex and confusing state of affairs for world fisheries.

The problem is that ocean warming, depletion of fisheries, and pollution result in coastal “dead zones”. This is not off in some distant future but is already taking place. Eighty percent of the world’s ocean fish catch is from the so-called Large Marine Ecosystems -- large areas of ocean adjacent to the continents. The ongoing warming degrades these fisheries and comes on top of many other environmental problems in those areas such as habitat degradation from runoffs, mangrove and coral reef destruction, and disruptions from oil and gas production. All of this results in destruction of valuable coastal ecosystems which provide livelihoods and food security to millions of poor people.

The environmental destructions of marine areas are accompanied by human conflicts, often across boundaries. The warming of the waters changes the way in which fish stocks move; many leave for cooler waters in coastal waters belonging to other countries. This disrupts food security for fishing communities and causes conflicts over access to these resources. The problem is that many coastal resources are already disputed as countries quarrel over areas of oceans, islands, fish stocks, oil and gas reserves, and pollution. The warming and degradation of the Large Marine Ecosystems compounds these other, often long-standing, disputes.

As the planet warms and changes, more and more ecosystems in the oceans and on land are undergoing change; for every change in economically valuable resource systems, there is a possibility of conflict over access to that resource. Are we prepared to deal with resource conflicts? I don’t think so—for every natural resource conflict that gets resolved it seems as if many more remain, reappear, or emerge.

The world needs much better and quicker ways to resolve tensions and conflicts over access to natural resources.

Source: GEF talking points ( and

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