Stockholm university

Ocean conservation boosts climate change mitigation and adaptation

Marine protected areas (MPAs) can significantly contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, according to a major new analysis published in the journal One Earth. They can enhance carbon sequestration, coastal protection, biodiversity, the reproductive capacity of marine organisms, as well as fishers’ catch and income.

Fiskstim i havetThe level of protection plays a large role in an area's effect on climate mitigation and adaptation. Poto: Vitalii Sokol/Mostphotos

Most of these benefits are only achieved in fully or highly protected areas and increase with their age. "These findings show why we must protect marine ecosystems. The upcoming COP27 in Sharm El Sheik and COP15 in Montreal are the right arenas for doing so", says coordinating lead author Joachim Claudet, from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at CRIOBE, and president of the Scientific Committee of the Ocean & Climate Platform.


Addressing knowledge gaps on MPAs’ effects on climate mitigation and adaptation

Resulting from the joint effort of scientists from CNRS, the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the Ocean & Climate Platform, this paper constitutes an important contribution to our understanding of how marine protected areas can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation of social-ecological systems.

Built on an extensive and systematic literature review of more than 22,000 existing publications on 241 different marine protected areas, this publication addresses the knowledge gap around their contribution to fighting climate change, and features 16 ecological and social pathways through which marine protected areas could contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This research paper ultimately demonstrates that marine conservation can be “a key tool for achieving the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement.” 

"Our analysis shows that the level of protection plays a large role in an area's effect on climate mitigation and adaptation. To make use of all benefits, an area needs to be highly or fully protected for as long as possible", explains co-author Robert Blasiak from Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the University of Tokyo.

The clear signal that the level of protection should take precedence in the design of marine protected areas is in stark contrast to the current paradigm of ocean protection globally, with the proportion of fully and highly protected areas plummeting worldwide as countries have rushed to meet conservation commitments. “Ensuring high protection levels in existing marine protected areas should be the priority to secure climate benefits to coastal social-ecological systems”, says lead author Juliette Jacquemont, from CNRS, the Ocean & Climate Platform, and now based at the University of Washington.

Including MPAs in climate action

Released a few weeks before the COP27 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Sharm El Sheik, and the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, this publication highlights the need to jointly combat the climate change and biodiversity loss crises. As recalled by the authors, “Although marine protected areas alone cannot offset all climate change impacts, they are a useful tool for climate change mitigation and adaptation of social-ecological systems.

While COP27 is expected to witness an upward revision of ambition regarding nationally determined contributions, and as marine protected areas are increasingly integrated into the climate strategies of state parties to the UNFCCC, this manuscript provides an important step towards better integration of marine conservation into the climate and biodiversity discussions.

Multiple opportunities now exist to leverage this scientific basis to guide both public policy and private sector initiatives. First, there is considerable scope to expand the consideration and recognition of marine protected areas in national climate strategies, including Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and adaptation communications. Such efforts would be aided by further allocation of resources to accelerate the expansion of IPCC-recognized blue carbon strategies to include marine sediments, enabling reliable accounting for mitigation benefits of marine protected areas with trawling restrictions. Second, as 64% of the ocean falls outside of national jurisdictions, it is also fundamental that ongoing negotiations on a treaty for the high seas are successfully concluded and enable the designation of area-based management tools such as marine protected areas. Finally, the sense of urgency to act and scale-up innovative solutions should be welcomed but not at the expense of recognized best practices regarding inclusive governance of marine protected areas and high to full levels of protection.

Citation of the paper: Jacquemont J, Blasiak R, Le Cam C, Le Gouellec M, Claudet J (2022). Ocean conservation boosts climate change mitigation and adaptation. One Earth.

Open access link to the paper: