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Prof. Rashid Sumaila, Fisheries Centre, Univ. of B.C. says ocean temperatures occurring at a much faster rate than scientists had previously predicted

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Two important reports [were] published this week in the journal of Nature Climate Change. One study, by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology says that the ocean is warming much faster than previously thought, with upper ocean temperatures estimated to be 24 to 58 percent higher than previously estimated. Earlier studies, which had no proper sample data from the southern hemisphere had left scientists wondering where had all the heat gone. Ninety percent of CO2 due to greenhouse gas is attributed to global warming, which is reflected in the global ocean, according to the IPCC.

Another new study, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at University of Queensland found that fish are not adapting well to higher CO2 levels and they are not reproducing at the same rate as before. That would have devastating effects on billions of people that rely on fish for food and livelihood.

Also this week, UN-affiliated Convention on Biological Diversity released another outlook at the opening of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, COP 12, in Pyeongchang, Korea.

With us to discuss the latest report on the Global Biodiversity Outlook 2014 is Professor Rashid Sumaila. Rashid Sumaila is joining us from Swakopmund in Namibia today, where he’s at a conference. Professor Sumaila is also based at the Fisheries Centre at University of British Columbia, Canada.

Thank you so much for joining us, professor.

SUMAILA: [snip] much for having me.

PERIES: Professor Sumaila, the Global Diversity Outlook 2014, what is the report saying? What is the headlines of it?

SUMAILA: Yeah, the key point is that since the Aichi targets were set by the global community in 2010, there has been some efforts around the world to try to increase the awareness about biodiversity and to try to put in place measures to kind of slow down our overuse of biodiversity. And what this report actually did conduct or carry out: an assessment of where we are. And the headline is that even though there has been some efforts, we’re still long ways away from achieving the targets the world set for itself by 2020.

PERIES: Rashid, what is the Aichi target?

SUMAILA: The Aichi targets, there are 20 of them, and in 2002 there was a very clear awareness among political leaders and scientists in particular, and even the public, that we are overusing our biological diversity, that is, our environment, our natural resources. We are taking too many fishes. We’re cutting too many trees. We are pumping out too much CO2. And that something needs to be done to arrest the situation. Otherwise, we will be jeopardizing our livelihood on this earth.

So in 2002, the CBD, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the parties agreed to do something. And by 2010, we realized that–it was realized that not much has been achieved. So the Aichi targets were set to kind of put targets that we have to aim to achieve by 2020. Examples of targets are, number one, increasing the awareness of people, the world’s population, on the importance of biodiversity to our livelihood. That is one. And then the other one is reducing the negative incentives–for example, giving subsidies that encourage overfishing or cutting down trees. Number three, there was a target on trying to protect parts of the land and also the ocean. Ten percent of the ocean was supposed to be protected by 2020, and fish stocks are supposed to be harvested globally sustainably by 2020. So we had a number of these. About 20 of them were set. And so this is midway to 2020.

Our group of scientists tried to carry out an assessment of where we are, and the verdict is not very good. Even though there are signs of improvements, we’re still lagging, and it looks like for most of the targets we will not make it by 2020.

PERIES: And what are some of the findings you had that lead you to believe that we will not reach the targets?

SUMAILA: So we carried out–the methodology we used, we used about 55 indicators to assess these different targets. And what we have seen: if you look at the trends from where we were and where we are now, if [we] continue doing things the way we are doing, most of the targets, about almost 70 percent of the targets, will still be below what we hope to achieve. For example, fish stocks will not be all harvested sustainably by 2020. That is what all the data is showing [us]. One of the brightest spots here is the protection of the ocean. And because of big, big marine-protected areas that have been put in place recently by President Obama, for example (George Bush also did that; Australia has done a number of them), we are seeing the possibility of achieving the 10 percent target by 2020 in the case of protecting parts of the ocean. But for many of the targets now, we’re a ways away, and efforts need to be doubled if we are going to achieve this.

PERIES: The convention on biological diversity specifically call for an end to targeted subsidies in fisheries, forestry, and agriculture. Why is it calling for that?

SUMAILA: Yeah. You know, subsidies essentially, very simply, if I were to define it very simple, they are payments by our government around the world, either directly or indirectly, to special–to sectors of the economy, for example fishing or forestry or agriculture. And what this taxpayer money actually does is it encourages more people and more fishing, more cutting of trees, more agriculture than the market would support. And so it leads to overexploitation and overuse. And that is why many scientists, economists have come to the conclusion clearly from analysis that that is not the best way to use public money. We want to use public money to do things that help society, not undermine our biodiversity. So this is why this is a very hot potato.

And there has been a lot of effort. The WTO has been working on this. But it’s really difficult, because we are dealing with special interests, and people who are benefiting from this are obviously not going to let go easily. And so we need public awareness, we need efforts to redirect–at least if we keep the subsidies in the sectors, we should use them in ways that enhance biodiversity rather than undermine them.

PERIES: Rashid, if CO2 is doing this much damage to our sea, what about all the other things we’re dumping into the ocean–plastic bags, sewer chemicals, cleanups like BP spills in the Gulf, ExxonMobil spill in Alaska? All these must have a devastating effect.

SUMAILA: Now, if you look at the ocean and the issues we are facing with the ocean, you you can talk about three key things. We have the fishing and the overfishing. That is one. And there has been a lot of stress on that over time, scientists and policymakers.

And then there is a CO2 issue, which is a climate issue. There is a warming issue, and our oceans are warming. And as the waters warm, creatures either have to adapt or they parish. And the changes, the changes, the warming is so fast that most creatures actually don’t have time to adapt. And like I like to say, when people, when we are in a hot environment, what do we do? We put on our air-conditioners. Or if it is too cold, we put on the heaters. The fish don’t have that possibility. They either move or they parish. And some of them try to move, the science is saying, and this has huge social and economic effect, because the movement is away from the tropics to the poles. And you can think of food security consequences of this, jobs for people who really need them, social effects. So this is huge.

The third component of this is pollution. We are throwing a lot of stuff into the ocean. Plastic is a big one. And the plastic don’t just decompose or decay very quickly. They stay there forever. They break into little pieces that the fish see and think is food. They think it’s algae. And they eat them, and they pollute them. And also they pollute the people who eat them.

So these three things are really huge, and we need to find ways to tackle them and mitigate and reduce them.

PERIES: Rashid, one thing I’ve been wondering about is, if CO2 is temperatures to increase, to me that seems rather obvious. Obviously, anyone who goes to the beach expects if the temperature is high, the waters are going to be warm. Why did the scientists get it so wrong, measuring the wrong depth of sea temperatures?

SUMAILA: Yeah, this is an interesting question. I mean, science is an experimental business. I mean, we’re always trying to look at things. We want to do the best we can [incompr.] the best information we have at the time of doing the science. So, clearly the initial report was directed to the deep seas because of our initial belief that this is where the action is, that as we get more information, we learn more; then we see that the directions is a bit more different. So I think this is what is happening. Science is really, really [incompr.] and we’re always learning.

PERIES: Rashid, what is the sociological impact? By this I mean the people that rely on the fisheries and ocean for food and livelihood. What impact is all thiis going to have on their livelihood? And what are the numbers we’re talking about that are affected by this?

SUMAILA: The implications are huge. And why do I say that? Let’s take fish catch to start with. Globally, we’re taking about 80 million tons of fish out of the ocean each year. Now, if you think of this in terms of weight, the number of cows that this can be converted to in terms of weight, we are talking over 80 million cows that are pulled out of the ocean each year to feed people. So it has huge, huge food security implications. And this is not only in the developed or developing world. In the developed world, people like to eat fish because it’s healthy and it’s good protein. In many parts of the developing world, fish is probably the only animal protein people will get to eat. So this very significant.

In terms of jobs, estimates are that fisheries employ about 260 million people directly and indirectly in fishing, and a lot of these people are actually in large developing countries. To me, that has huge consequences on social and political settings. So these are people who would have nothing else to do if fishing wasn’t available.

PERIES: Do we have some numbers on this? How many people around the world will be affected by this trend?

SUMAILA: By the trend, we’re talking about 260 million people working at the moment. And if the trend that we’re seeing, whereby catches have started declining–you know, so for 80 million tons of fish, we’re employing 260 million. If this were to decline to 40 million tons, for example, everything being equal, as economic economists like to say, that will cut the number by more than 100 million people. Right? So decreasing catches, everything being equal, lead to less fish to eat and less people employed, and therefore less income to pay for school fees and so on for children in coastal communities in the developing world–huge implications all over.

So really making sure that our oceans remain healthy and that they are in a position to continue to deliver food and livelihood opportunities is very important for the world.

PERIES: Rashid, I thank you so much for joining us today. And we hope to have you back when you’re back in our part of the world in British Columbia.

SUMAILA: You’re most welcome. Thank you very much.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Dr. U. Rashid Sumaila is Professor and Director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC Fisheries Centre. He specializes in bioeconomics, marine ecosystem valuation and the analysis of global issues such as fisheries subsidies, IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing and the economics of high and deep seas fisheries. Sumaila has experience working in fisheries and natural resource projects in Norway, Canada and the North Atlantic region, Namibia and the Southern African region, Ghana and the West African region and Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He has published articles in several journals including, Science, Natuture and the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. Sumaila's work has generated a great deal of interest, and has been cited by, among others, the Economist, the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune and the Vancouver Sun.