Promoting Sustainable and Just Adaptation to Climate Change

By Senia Febrica

On 5th November 2021, the One Ocean Hub organised a roundtable discussion among leading academics on “The Ocean and Climate Justice: Impact, Adaptation and Mitigation” as part of the Scottish Government’s COP26 Climate Ambition Zone events. This blogpost provides an overview of key messages delivered at the roundtable.

The importance of inclusive ocean governance

The roundtable discussion highlighted as an important message that inclusive ocean governance is essential to ensure that resilience and adaptation to climate change is sustainable and just. The roundtable explored the impacts of climate change upon an array of internationally guaranteed human rights, such as the human right to health and in some coastal communities, the right to self-determination and life. Given the close relationship between climate change and the enjoyment of human rights, this roundtable illuminated the importance of integrating human rights in society’s response to climate change. It further drew attention to the challenges posed by climate change upon indigenous peoples and small-scale fishing communities, distribution of fish stocks, and the structure of deep-sea ecosystems. It provided an opportunity to discuss innovation and adaptation strategies that can support the sustainability of the oceans and improve communities’ resilience. 

Opportunities of combining arts-based approaches and law

The event was opened with a joint presentation by Dr Elaine Webster (University of Strathclyde) and Professor Stuart Jeffrey (Glasgow School of Art)  that explored the role of arts in furthering justice for indigenous peoples, small-scale fishers, rural women and children in the context of the changing climate. They highlighted how arts provided innovative modes for One Ocean Hub researchers to engage directly with communities and cultural practitioners already affected by climate change. The Hub has initiated the ‘Deep Emotional Engagement Programme (DEEP) Fund’ to commission artistic responses that capture connections with the ocean. Only by working directly with communities and cultural practitioners we can explore a range of human rights issues in the context of climate adaptation and mitigation that affected them such as procedural rights in the context of marine spatial planning and human rights of local knowledge holders and small-scale fishers to marine resources and areas.

Engaging with indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ customary laws

Dr David Wilson (University of Strathclyde, UK) and Professor Rose Boswell (Nelson Mandela University) drew attention to the political ecology of climate change and indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ customary laws. They emphasised the pressing need to investigate, recognise and address historical inequalities perpetuated under colonialism, including marine dispossession and displacement, to improve human rights in ocean governance. Professor Boswell and Dr Wilson further highlighted the need to support global advocacy training for environmental sustainability, including building capacity in coastal communities as well as in governance and law to foreground indigenous peoples’ human rights and customary approaches. Capacity building lies at the heart of the One Ocean Hub’ activities. The Hub researchers engage in research co-development, including through creative thinking and capacity building, with coastal communities including indigenous peoples, rural women, and small-scale fishers.

The role of natural sciences

Dr Sebastian Hennige (University of Edinburgh) highlighted multiple threats to deep-sea ecosystems from climate change and different management scenarios. Dr Hennige stressed how ocean acidification leads to habitat loss on an ecosystem scale. He claimed that significant advances need to be made to be able to visualise changes caused by climatic change, to predict future changes, inform ocean management, and improve policymakers understanding on the role and risk of habitat loss over time. As part of the One Ocean Hub’s research on Offshore Marine Biodiversity and Spatial Management our researchers are undertaking habitat, ecosystem and ecosystem service mapping and valuation to support spatial management in the South East Atlantic including areas beyond national jurisdiction. By doing so the Hub is advancing understanding of the effects of multiple stressors on deep-sea ecosystems, and develop solutions to monitor, protect, manage and restore ecosystems and their biodiversity under changing environmental and climate conditions.

A joint presentation by Dr John Pinnegar (CEFAS) & Professor Warwick Sauer (Rhodes University) noted how One Ocean Hub research towards developing fisheries models to assess climate change impacts in South Africa and Namibia can improve adaptation measures for fisheries stakeholders. By understanding the factors that conspire to give high risk or vulnerability scores, they can work with stakeholders to devise tailored adaptation actions. Working with stakeholders is essential to map out feasible fisheries adaptation actions, improve livelihoods, facilitate institutional adaptation, and reduce risk and improve management for resilience.

Inclusive and sustainable blue economies

Dr Bernadette Snow (University of Strathclyde), Professor Jeremy Hills (University of South Pacific) & Kelly Hoareau (University of Seychelles) highlighted that although blue economy policies and laws across multiple scales are rapidly progressing, there are still opportunities for further inclusion at the ocean-climate nexus. To that end, the way in which mitigation and adaptation are translated into policy is vital for national development, particularly for oceanic states who are reliant on the blue economy. In order to address the existential threat of climatic change, innovative financial and governance mechanisms such as blue carbon, debt for nature swop, are required.

The event was chaired by Mr Mark Haver (Chair of Youth Policy Advisory Council, Sustainable Ocean Alliance), who concluded the event by reading a poem.

‘May your ambition be as vast as the ocean. May the hope in your heart be as deep as the ocean. And may your tenacity in improving ocean health be as fierce as if it was your life dependent on it — because mine is.’

Mr Mark Haver