The Ocean Neutrality Initiative is a coordinated collaborative process of inquiry, which aims to identify the core challenges, major areas of action, and the emerging science, innovation, and solutions, that together define the work of achieving an ocean neutral standard.
Humbly, we opened this conversation during the 2017 UN General Assembly with the following list of critical Zero Goals, to begin mapping the ocean neutrality challenge:
- No plastic waste.
- No ocean acidification.
- No thermal expansion.
- No sea level rise.
- No disruption of ocean currents.
- No chemical agricultural runoff.
- No coral bleaching.
- No sonic trauma.
- No accelerated extinction.
- No sea-floor methane disruption.
Each of these core challenges is overwhelmingly complex. The scope of their interactions with everyday human activity mean they cannot be solved in just one place or by just one kind of action. Beyond that, most of these zero goals don’t allow for a “net zero” substitute. That works with emissions (chemical release and absorption can balance out to net zero) and with temperature fluctuations (warming and cooling can, in theory, balance out at net zero change). But…
- You cannot have “less than zero” plastic waste;
- ocean ecosystems are delicately balanced across a wide diversity of ongoing, compounded biochemical interactions, to operate at an optimized balance of temperature and pH;
- warming of ocean water creates add-on effects, changing how light, energy, and nutrients filter down to certain depths;
- and net zero extinction (let alone mass extinction) does not mean neutral ecological impact.
For each Ocean Neutrality goal, there are reasons why zero is functionally very different from net zero, if net zero is possible at all, and we have to understand that we have already pushed far beyond what would be a reasonable burden to ask ocean systems to absorb. We have a lot of innovating, a lot of new life-cycle management, and a lot of reversing of impacts to do. And for much of this work, we don’t yet know how to do the real heavy lifting.
That is not to say that work should not begin immediately. Very important, historic work is now underway, to clean plastic from the ocean, to prevent waste from reaching the ocean, to improve farm management systems to prevent runoff upstream, and to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other compounds that contribute to warming and ocean acidification.
To achieve ocean neutrality, we will need to build on this work, scale it up, mainstream it everywhere, and connect the knowledge centers and platforms for implementation.
We recognize at the outset that achieving ocean neutrality requires deliberate, collaborative, persistent innovation, at both the macro and the micro scales. While we work to solve the world ocean crisis at the planetary scale, we also have to work at the most intimate levels of our decision-making, to reverse the ongoing industrial disruption of ocean systems.
Individuals and communities, farms and small businesses, bankers and political leaders make choices about chemicals and pollutants, land use and water management, that directly impact the ocean. In many cases, we do not know we are making such choices. But we must accept that we can, and we should know.
Informed decision-making is an existential requirement for a prosperous and secure future for humanity. And so, as part of our commitment to Ocean Stewardship, and in support of the Ocean Neutrality Initiative, the Geoversiv Foundation is supporting a series of global knowledge and implementation acceleration and scaling efforts, including:
- The Acceleration Dialogues
- The Climate-Smart Finance Aggregator
- The ACCESS to GOOD Project
- Living Future Strategies
- And… a forthcoming Earth Systems Science collaboration.
By networking knowledge platforms, convening spaces, multidisciplinary inquiry and reporting, and decision-making bodies, we aim to not only investigate what is needed to achieve Ocean Neutrality, but to motivate early action to speed solutions to where they can do the most good. The Ocean Neutrality Initiative will then share best practices and consistently support the updating and upgrading of how these systems for knowledge sharing and implementation are integrated.
Beyond Zero: Building the Blue Economy
Solving these many complex challenges will be the driving force at the heart of the emerging Blue Economy. In June, at UN Headquarters, during the first UN Ocean Summit, many of the technologies required to build the ocean stewardship economy were fodder for discussion and negotiation.
We described the Blue Economy as “a vast operational landscape of new value based on addressing these challenges effectively,” adding that:
The zero footprint standard for industrial production and life-cycle management will be feasible when the zero footprint standard for technological intervention in the marine environment is integral to the design of our science, business, and stewardship practices.
So, in addition to examining the ten component challenges of ocean neutrality listed above, we are asking these questions:
- How can we define and measure an “ocean footprint”?
- How can we define and work toward “ocean neutrality”?
- What actions and technologies must be deployed first?
- How can whole economies transition to “blue” business models?
- How best can we connect business, science, finance and ecology?