Open letter to world leaders: Put marine ecosystems at the heart of climate policy
Mar 22, 2021

Open letter to world leaders: Put marine ecosystems at the heart of climate policy

By EJF Staff

Our ocean gives us every second breath. It absorbs around a third of the CO2 we pump out, and has taken in over a nuclear bomb’s worth of heat every second for the past 150 years. It underpins our climate system and keeps our planet habitable: It is the blue beating heart of our planet.

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Yet, when it comes to inclusion in climate policies, marine habitats are often neglected. A healthy ocean, teeming with life, is a vital tool in the bid to tackle global heating: more than half of biological carbon capture is stored by marine wildlife. This ‘blue carbon’ is in every part of the ecosystem, from the coasts, where mangrove forests store up to four times more carbon per hectare than tropical rainforests and seagrass meadows store nearly 20 gigatonnes of carbon worldwide, to the open sea, where the great whales sequester millions of tonnes of carbon each year.

The COP26 climate talks and COP15 biodiversity talks this year will be the most important meetings for generations. They will set us on the road to either a sustainable future for humanity or conflict, suffering and mass extinctions.

We call on national governments to recognise the critical importance of our ocean and blue carbon in the fight against the climate emergency. Specifically, we urge our leaders to:

  1. Include specific, legally binding targets to protect and restore blue carbon environments in their updated Nationally Determined Contribution implementation plans;
  2. Commit to the 30x30 ocean protection plan and designate 30% of the ocean as ecologically representative marine protected areas by 2030;
  3. Agree an international moratorium on deep sea mining to protect the deep sea from irreversible, large-scale harm.

Blue carbon is a golden opportunity: marine stores globally contain around 49 times the amount of carbon as is in the atmosphere. However, it is a major risk if left unprotected. The current annual loss of seagrass is estimated to release around 299 million tonnes of carbon every year, and for coastal wetlands that figure rises to 450 million tonnes.

Restoring and protecting our marine habitats as a central tenet of climate policy could play a key role in our salvation. However, the protection of blue carbon must not be used as a substitute for ambitious decarbonisation, which must take place across all sectors in a ‘whole of the economy’ approach.

We must halt the destruction of ocean habitats, ensuring their protection through measures such as a moratorium of deep-sea mining, as well as actively restoring much of these habitats that have been lost. Unsustainable fishing practices also jeopardize the ecological integrity of ocean ecosystems. Nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries are either fully- or over exploited, and illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing represents up to one third of the world’s reported catch. At this rate, we are facing the collapse of diverse marine ecosystems across the globe, with devastating consequences for people and for our climate.

To protect our ocean and halt climate breakdown, we need a global network of ecologically representative marine protected areas to cover at least 30% of the high seas no later than 2030. These areas must be truly protected, not designated as such on paper and left open to degradation as many have been. Researchers have already created a protection plan that would work. By analysing each of the 25,000 squares of 100x100 km that cover the high seas, they have found the 30% of each marine habitat that would be best for conservation and climate.

Protecting our blue carbon stocks is not only effective, low cost climate mitigation, it brings multiple other benefits. Nature-based solutions like restoration and protection of marine habitats will help us meet global decarbonisation goals and prevent the worst impacts of global heating while also protecting the lives and livelihoods of the 3 billion people who depend on marine biodiversity around the world.

The climate emergency is the defining issue of our time, and we demand bold leadership which recognises the intertwined crises of climate, biodiversity, and human rights and implements meaningful policies to address them together.

Selected signatories


Dr. Thomas Appleby - Expert in environmental and marine law

Prof. Chris Armstrong - Professor of Political Theory

Dr. Melanie Bergmann - Marine biologist

Matt Bjerregaard Walsh - Consultant at UN FAO Fish

Prof. Brendan Godley - Professor for Marine Conservation

Prof. Mark Everard - Professor for Ecosystem Services

Ben Goldsmith - Financier and environmentalist

Dr. Florian Huber - Underwater archaeologist and founder of Submaris

Prof. Pavel Kabat - Research Director of the World Meteorological Organization

Prof. Dr. Silja Klepp - Co-founder of EnJust

Prof. Xavier Lambin - Professor of Zoology

Dr. Richard Lilley - Managing Director and Co-Founder of Project Seagrass

Prof. Dr. Darrel Frank Moellendorf - Professor of International Political Theory

Prof. Dr. Hermann Ott - Chairman ClientEarth e.V. - Advocates of the Earth

Finlay Pringle - Marine conservationist and activist

Hanli Prinsloo - Marine conservationist and activist

Carl Safina - Ecologist and author

Prof. Beth Scott - Professor of Marine Ecology

Dr. Richard Unsworth - Co-founder of Project Seagrass

Dr. Georg Winter - Environmental economist

Public figures

Gordon Buchanan - Award-winning wildlife cameraman, presenter and public speaker

Joanna Lumley - Actress, former model, presenter and television producer

Helena Ann Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC, FRSA

Sir Michael Andrew Bridge Morpurgo - Author

Dona Bertarelli - Philanthropist and activist

Lucy Campbell - Olympic surfer

Tobias Friedrich - Underwater photographer

Zoe Wanamaker - Actress

Markus Mauthe - Nature photographer and environmental activist

Cristina Mittermeier - Photographer, co-founder and CEO of Sea Legacy, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2018

George Monbiot - Journalist and author

Paul Nicklen - Photographer and filmmaker (e.g. for National Geographic) and co-founder of Sea Legacy

Ellie Turner - Olympic surfer

Tom Vierus - Photographer, filmmaker and marine biologist

Vivienne Westwood - Fashion designer

Wyland - Marine artist and writer

Political representatives

Alviina Alametsä MEP - Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Basilio Araujo - Deputy Minister for Maritime and Energy Sovereignty coordination of Coordinating Ministry of Maritime and Investment Republic of Indonesia

Clare Bailey MLA - Leader of Northern Ireland Green Party

Tudor Ciuhodaru MEP - Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

Edward Davey MP - Liberal Democrat Party Leader and Member of Parliament for Kingston and Surbiton

Cyrus Engerer MEP - Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

Barry Gardiner MP - Labour Party MP for Brent North

Heidi Hautala MEP - Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Grace O'Sullivan MEP - Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Petros Kokkalis MEP - Left group in the European Parliament

Steffi Lemke MdB - Member of Greens in the German Bundestag

Ralph Lenkert MdB - Member of Left Party in the German Bundestag

Caroline Lucas MP - Green Party MP for Brighton, Pavilion

Dace Melbarde MEP - European Conservatives and Reformists Group

Karen Melchior MEP - Renew Europe Group

Lord Jeffrey William Rooker, PC - Labour Life Peer and former Environment Minister

Sylwia Spurek MEP - Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Lord Robin Teverson - Liberal Democrat Life Peer

Nils Torvalds, MEP - Svenska folkpartiet, Finnland

Marie Toussaint MEP - Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Ernest Urtasun MEP - Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance (Vice Chair)

Sarah Wiener MEP - Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Michael Wiezik MEP - Group of the European People's Party

Tiemo Wölken, MEP - Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

Frank Schwabe, MdB - Member of Social Democratic Party in the German Bundestag

洪申翰 (Sun-Han Hung) MP - Democratic Progressive Party MP without constituency

蔡壁如 (Pi-Ru Tsai) MP - Taiwan People's Party MP without constituency

邱顯智 (Hsien-Chih Chiu) MP - New Power Party MP without constituency

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