California’s Climate Summit Is a Moment to Lead on Oceans, Coasts

Sara Aminzadeh, executive director of California Coastkeeper Alliance and a member of the California Coastal Commission, says there’s momentum for ambitious ocean commitments to be made at the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit.

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On the beach in Santa Monica, California.Lorenzo Montezemolo/Getty Images

California has consistently stepped up when the Trump administration steps back; our state has emerged as a climate leader even as the administration works to undermine climate progress. While the United States has officially withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, California is working to galvanize a global movement of states, cities and businesses to curb carbon pollution and keep the planet below 3.6F (2C) of warming. In September, the state will host the Global Climate Action Summit, where government and business leaders from around the world will be asked to double down on past commitments.

The California legislature is taking early action to ensure that ocean and coastal adaptation also ranks high on the summit’s climate change action agenda. Recently, the legislature introduced a joint resolution urging state and federal action to lead with science-driven, nature-based solutions to combat the effects of climate change on ocean systems and coastal communities, with equity considerations at the forefront.

The resolution, introduced by well-regarded coastal champions, assembly members Mark Stone and Richard Bloom, and notably, environmental justiceleader assembly member Eduardo Garcia, emphasizes the need for just programs and policies that consider human communities in addition to fish and wildlife, especially disadvantaged communities that will suffer disproportionately from displacement, property loss and rising home and insurance costs. In particular, the participation of Garcia, of Riverside and Imperial counties, underscores the ocean’s importance to inland communities that participate in the state’s $45 billion ocean economy, seek relief from summer heat at the beach and would benefit from efforts to preserve and increase public access.

This resolution builds on years of work to prepare the state for changing ocean conditions. California is a founding member of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification. Under the leadership ofits Ocean Protection Council, our state will debut one of the world’s first ocean acidification action plans at the September summit and bring it to the Council for adoption in October. This plan can chart a course for no-regrets policy measures to address nutrient pollution runoff to the coast that can exacerbate hypoxic conditions and cause harmful algal blooms. And our network of marine protected areas can function as “hope spots” that allow our ecosystems and species to adapt and be resilient to climate change impacts.

I hope that this resolution will serve as an early signal to government and business leaders at the September summit to put ocean resilience at the center of their climate commitments and investments. Here in California, we’ve been at the forefront of developing research and policy innovations that can be replicated worldwide to address costly and dire oceans and coastal challenges.

In 2015 and 2016, toxic algae blooms shut down the Dungeness crab fishery, costing crabbers more than $100 million. Ocean acidification and hypoxia are threatening shellfish and plankton that form the base of the ocean food web. The manner in which we prepare for and mitigate changing ocean conditions could mean the difference between sustaining or losing our fisheries and marine life. For example, promising new research under way is exploring the possibility that seagrass and kelp restoration can mitigate acidic ocean conditions to nearby habitats or aquaculture. Findings from this work could be appliedthroughoutthe Pacific Ocean region.

More than 200,000 Californians are vulnerable to flooding, and a quarter of them are lower-income or linguistically isolated. In response to rising sea levels, we can invest in wetlands restoration and natural resiliency to preserve the character of our coast, or lose our beaches and coast to sea walls and armoring. For example, the Nature Conservancy is encouraging California leaders to adopt a vision and commitments at the summit to achieve no net loss of coastal habitat even with a 1.5m (5ft) sea level rise. If we can show that it’s feasible here, other coastal states and nations may follow suit.

Thanks to a chorus of businesses, scientists, agencies, decision-makers and organizations, oceans are now front and center at the summit. I hope that leaders from around the world will follow the lead of California legislators to address climate change impacts to the ocean and coast as they consider a host of decarbonization commitments. With impacts already occurring to our shoreline, harbors and ports, aquaculture and fishing industries, concrete investments and policies in ocean resilience have to be front and center on the climate action agenda.

California is already demonstrating how to lead on decarbonization and sustain a thriving economy. I believe that California can also serve as a global model for science-based, nature-based ocean and coastal climate change adaptation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Oceans Deeply.

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