Valuing the Ocean

Valuing the Ocean is a study prepared by an international, multi-disciplinary team of experts coordinated by the Stockholm Environment Institute. The study will be published as a peer-reviewed book in 2012. A Summary has been released to inform preparations for the Rio+20 Earth Summit and is available.

Valuing the Ocean

The ocean is the cornerstone of our life-support system. It covers over 70 percent of our planet and generates the oxygen in every second breath we take; it has cushioned the blow of climate change by absorbing 25–30 percent of all anthropogenic carbon emissions and 80 percent of the heat added to the global system; it regulates our weather and provides food for billions of people. The ocean is

The ocean has always been thought of as the epitome of unconquerable, inexhaustible vastness and variety, but this ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ image may be its worst enemy. The immense scale of the ocean, and its remoteness from most of our daily lives, has
contributed to its chronic neglect. For rather than being ‘too big to fail’, even the ocean is not immune to the destructive capacity of anthropogenic climate change and, more broadly, global environmental change. Its capacities are being stretched and some of the vital services it provides to humankind are seriously degraded. Unlike the ocean itself, many of these services – from food security, to storm protection, to carbon absorption – can and should be assigned monetary values and incorporated in broader global and national economic policies, so that they become visible when we plan for the future.

As financial and institutional resources are stretched in the face of economic recession and a multitude of pressing global challenges, the ocean is not rising fast enough up political agendas, despite mounting research pointing to the multiple threats being faced and growing evidence of the causes behind them. Rather than benefiting from economies of scale, the ocean is the victim of a global market failure, as we continue to largely ignore the true worth of its ecosystems, services and functions, and externalise the true costs of pollution. A radical shift in the way we view and value the ocean is needed.

Some threats to the ocean, such as overfishing and coral bleaching, are widely researched and increasingly well known to the public. Other less visible threats, such as acidification and hypoxia (deoxygenation) of the ocean, are only just beginning to be understood and remain beyond the awareness of most people. Even less well grasped are the ways in which the many complex changes occurring in the ocean overlap and interact, and the extent of their impact on different communities and economies. It is clear that we require new ways of understanding the ocean and the threats it faces, and a greater appreciation of the value of the services it bestows.

This forthcoming collaborative book seeks to bridge these gaps. The opening chapters provide thorough overviews of the current status of the six most important marine challenges, namely ocean acidification, ocean warning, hypoxia, sea level rise, pollution and the overuse of marine resources. There is a substantial literature on each of these issues, but thus far they have largely been researched and reported separately. In this book, concise reviews of the state of the science in these areas will now be found all in one place. The book then breaks new ground by fitting the pieces together in a chapter examining the significance of multiple stressors and their policy implications, and by making a first attempt to actually put a price on the avoidable portion of future global environmental change in the marine domain, i.e. the monetary value of not causing further damage to the ocean.

By pricing the difference between low- and highemission scenarios, characterised as the distance between our hopes and our fears, the book intends to crystallise our understanding of the value of ocean services to humankind and allow policy-makers to more effectively account for these services when assessing the economic implications of global environmental change and what to do about it. In the final chapters, a discussion of different ways to plan for a future fraught with risk and uncertainty is presented, followed by a case study of the Pacific Ocean, which shows how the global analyses presented can be applied in a regional context.

Some things that cannot be assigned meaningful prices are nonetheless critical to the functioning of the Earth System. Nutrient cycling, oxygen production and genetic resources are examples of properties of the oceans that are vital to maintaining our
life-support system, but which cannot be measured in monetary terms. These kinds of Earth System Values are also highlighted in the book through the use of an ‘expert survey’ approach to complement the more traditional scenario-based planning. In these ways, the authors intend to expand the research frontier in marine sciences and improve on methodologies for holistic, cross-scale analysis.

Decisions in the marine domain will need to be made despite having a number of significant ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ unknowns. It is hoped that this book will help to identify some of these potential surprises and put bounds on their significance and impact.

This book is a link in a chain rather than an end in itself. The conclusions and monetary figures it presents are not definitive – too much is yet unknown and uncertain for that – but are intended to contribute towards a new approach to ocean governance, one that is fully integrated and prioritised within the broader picture of social, environmental and economic policy. We critically need to go beyond the current approach of addressing (or ignoring!) one problem at a time. We must create management strategies that are aimed at optimising the sustainable benefits we can obtain from marine resources across scales from local to global, and in the face of several interacting and escalating threats. The very chemical, thermodynamic and biological foundations of the ocean are being jeopardised by human activity, putting at risk marine ecosystems and services on which humankind so essentially depends.

We need to be made aware of what we stand to lose if we continue to neglect the ocean and fail to adequately address global environmental change. This book hopes to guide policy-makers, accelerate the implementation of new management tools and systems, and – most importantly – encourage people to ask themselves what the oceans are really worth to them and to the future of our planet.




Draggan, S. (2012). Valuing the Ocean. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/174453


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