Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Coral reef. (USFWS/Jerry Reid)

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Could Trigger a Trillion-Dollar Coral Reef Problem

New UN report outlines threat of 'geologically unprecedented rate' of ocean acidification 

Andrea Germanos

Greenhouse gas emissions' impacts on the world's oceans have caused a growing and expensive problem.

The issue is ocean acidification, oulined in a Convention on Biological Diversity report launched Wednesday in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea, at the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12).

The report, An Updated Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity, explains how the oceans' absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide has driven a change in ocean chemistry that lowers ph levels, meaning the waters are more acidic.

This acidification has increased 26 percent since pre-Industrial times, the report says, and it is occurring at a "geologically unprecedented rate." While the increase happened quickly, historic evidence, the report states, shows that recovery could take 100,000 years.

The executive summary states that "it is now nearly inevitable that within 50 to 100 years, continued anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will further increase ocean acidity to levels that will have widespread impacts, mostly deleterious, on marine organisms and ecosystems, and the goods and services they provide."

Tropical coral reefs will feel these impacts, because reefs are constructed of calcium carbonate, but the lower ph levels lower their calcification ability, making it harder for reefs to produce their skeletons. This is a great concern, the report states, as roughly 400 million people depend depend on them for their livelihoods.

Ocean acidification's impacts on coral reefs alone could trigger as much as $1 trillion in global losses annually by 2100, one study cited in the report found.

That does not take into consideration economic losses to reefs as a result of other threats, such as rising ocean temperatures or over-fishing, nor losses from ocean acidification's impacts to other areas like oyster hatcheries.

“When ecosystems stop delivering the way they should, they essentially deliver less services and less benefits. 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,” stated Salvatore Arico, Senior Programme Specialist, Natural Sciences Sector at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The only solution to the problem of ocean acidification, the report notes, is to lower atmospheric CO2.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

NYC to Become First US City to Mandate Proof of Vaccination for Certain Indoor Activities

New Yorkers will need to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms, and theaters starting next month.

Julia Conley ·

Seniors Would Cross Party Lines to Back Candidates Who Support Medicare Negotiating Drug Prices: Poll

"This poll confirms that high drug prices are a top-of-mind issue for seniors when making voting decisions."

Jake Johnson ·

Groups Welcome Biden Review But Demand Congress Permanently Protect Arctic Refuge From Drilling

Activists urge lawmakers to reverse a relevant 2017 law, "cancel the leases issued by the Trump administration, and shut down this dangerous drilling program once and for all."

Jessica Corbett ·

As US Hits Biden's 70% Vaccination Goal, World's Poor Nations Barely Over 1%

"The longer billions of people remain unvaccinated, the more variants will develop that threaten all of us."

Andrea Germanos ·

'We Are the Owners': Palestinians Refuse to Concede Land Rights to Israelis in Sheikh Jarrah

"The minute we pay rent for our homes, it means we have given up ownership," said one woman who could be expelled to make way for Jewish settlers.

Brett Wilkins ·