Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The world's oceans are on the brink of massive, irreversible change—and leaders must take notice, a new study warns. (Photo: GD Taber/flickr/cc)

If World Refuses to Act on Carbon, Oceans Doomed to 'Irreversible' Damage

New study warns, 'any new global climate agreement that does not minimize the impacts on the ocean will be inadequate.'

Nadia Prupis

Without "immediate and substantial" reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the world's oceans and marine life face massive, irreversible damage with far-reaching consequences by 2100, a new study published Friday in the magazine Science warns.

The international team of scientists, led by Dr. Jean-Pierre Gattuso of the Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche in France, ran two analyses to compare the impact of climate change on the world's oceans—one in which no changes are made to carbon emissions and one which involves extreme cuts.

The "business-as-usual" approach found that rising greenhouse gases would have an "effectively irreversible" impact on marine ecosystems by causing oceans to heat up, lose oxygen, and become more acidic.

That, in turn, would have devastating consequences on the food security and livelihoods of millions of people—all within the next 85 years.

"Impacts on key marine and coastal organisms, ecosystems, and services from anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 emissions are already detectable, and several will face high risk of impacts well before 2100, even with the stringent CO2 emissions scenario," the authors write. "These impacts are occurring across all latitudes and have become a global concern that spans the traditional north/south divide."

The study continues:

Services such as coastal protection and capture fisheries are already affected by ocean warming and acidification. The risks of impacts to these services increase with continued emissions... These impacts will be cumulative or synergistic with other human impacts, such as overexploitation of living resources, habitat destruction, and pollution. Fin fisheries at low latitudes, which are a key source of protein and income for millions of people, will be at high risk.

The scientists plan to present their findings at the UN climate talks in Paris later this year. The study notes that "despite the ocean's critical role in regulating climate...international climate negotiations have only minimally considered impacts on the ocean."

Such indifference can no longer be tolerated, the scientists warn.

"Limiting emissions...is necessary to meet stated objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; a substantially different ocean would result from any less-stringent emissions scenario," the study concludes. "[A]ny new global climate agreement that does not minimize the impacts on the ocean will be inadequate."

Speaking with the BBC on Friday, Plymouth Marine Laboratory science director Professor Manuel Barange, who was not involved in the study, warned that "[c]limate change will continue to affect ocean ecosystems in very significant ways, and society needs to take notice and respond."

"We are allowing ourselves to travel a uniquely dangerous path, and we are doing so without an appreciation for the consequences that lie ahead," Barange said.


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

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·


Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Progressive Caucus Hails Honduran Election as Chance for 'New Chapter' in Relations

"We encourage the Biden administration to use this opportunity to make a clean break with previous presidential administrations, which worked to ensure that the 2009 coup d'état succeeded."

Brett Wilkins ·


'The Facts of This Case Are So Egregious': Parents of Michigan School Shooter Charged in Killings

"There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent," the Oakland County prosecutor said of the mother and father now being sought by law enforcement.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo