The Fifth National Climate Assessment is the US Government’s preeminent report on climate change impacts, risks, and responses. It is a congressionally mandated interagency effort that provides the scientific foundation to support informed decision-making across the United States. Dr. Charles Colgan, Director of Research at the Center for the Blue Economy co-authored Chapter 10: Ocean Ecosystems and Marine Resources.
The Ocean Climate Action campaign has resulted in huge wins for the ocean, coasts, and the climate movement. Learn more about the work that led up these historic accomplishments and the next steps to turn these policies into action below.
In 2019, the Center for the Blue Economy and partner organization Blue Frontier led a national coalition of NGOs, legislators, environmental justice activists, industry leaders, and academics to develop the blueprint for a national Ocean Climate Action Plan (OCAP). We published our initial report in July of 2020.
The campaign was incredibly successful, leading to the inclusion of billions of dollars in ocean climate funding in two major federal bills—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. In addition, the Biden-Harris Administration enacted many ocean climate executive actions and in March 2023 released its own U.S. Ocean Climate Action Plan that largely mirrors our recommendations.
Many of our policy recommendations are now included in national law or policy frameworks—but our work is not done.
Turning U.S. Ocean Climate Policy into Action
The Center for the Blue Economy, in partnership with a large coalition of NGOs, is assessing all the Biden Administration’s commitments to ocean-climate policy, conferring with the country’s leading experts in conservation, equity, and industry to outline the critical next steps to accelerate the transition to a new blue economy for the 21st century. We are specifically highlighting actions the Administration can take in the next 18 months without Congressional approval to equitably and efficiently make ocean-climate action a reality.
What are ocean-based solutions to the climate crisis?
The ocean, the Great Lakes, our nations rivers and estuaries buffer the effects of climate change by sequestering carbon, protecting from storm surge, stabilizing weather patterns, and fostering biodiversity. Climate change and ocean health are often thought about as separate silos, when the two are interconnected. Climate change is warming the ocean and changing their chemistry. Without ocean health, the entire planetary water cycle and oxygen cycle are in danger. The ocean sequesters huge amounts of carbon dioxide helping to cool the planet, but that may not continue with “business as usual.” Climate change affects even those far from any coastline. We must solve the ocean climate challenge together, and we have a short window of time to take action.
Ocean-based climate solutions refer to investments and innovations in:
- Clean Ocean Energy: It’s time for federal investment into research and development of wind, wave and tidal energy. We must address the rising temperatures on the planet affecting the ocean and all life on earth and move towards sustainable energy. The Ocean Climate Action Coalition supports (and we believe influenced) the Biden executive action to allow 30GW of offshore wind leasing by 2030.
- Job-Producing Shoreline Restoration to Promote Climate Resilience: Storm intensity is increasing, and sea levels are rising, making storm surges and flooding more intense. The Ocean Climate Action Coalition supports calls for federal funding through NOAA to create jobs building living shorelines and natural barriers for our coasts, ports, and along inland rivers and the Great Lakes (the Civilian Conservation Corps). Nature-based solutions will save lives, save taxpayer money, and create wildlife habitat. It’s time to move post-disaster funding into pre-disaster planning.
- Green Ports and Shipping: It’s time to rapidly accelerate the decarbonization of U.S. ports and the shipping industry, and in doing so, dramatically improve air and water quality in adjacent communities. The Ocean Climate Action Coalition supports calls for federal funding through EPA to modernize and green our ports.
- 30x30: It’s time to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas covering at least 30% of U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone waters to provide public benefit and increase climate resilience. Marine protected areas have a proven track record of helping the nations fisheries and marine biodiversity to recover and flourish.
- Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture: It’s time to catalyze rapid growth and innovation in a climate resilient and sustainable seafood industry, which includes aquaculture, mariculture, and plant and cell-based seafood alternatives.
Read our 30-page Ocean Climate Action Plan for detailed and attainable ocean-climate solutions. Our colleagues at the Ocean Defense Initiative have also recently put out a white paper called the Blueprint for Ocean Climate Action, and we fully support and applaud this set of recommendations! Finally, the Biden-Harris Administration also has a detailed set of targets outlined in the U.S. Ocean Climate Action Plan.
The Middlebury Institute attracts amazing faculty and students, and affords amazing opportunities. This spring and summer, MIIS students became published authors, filled a missing gap in historic scientific knowledge, and sailed the open seas.
The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) website has long been one of the few places where researchers and the public could go to for data on the Blue Economy. This year we have overhauled the site with new datasets (natural capital, renewable energy, and climate change) and responsive reports.
A Brief History of the Ocean Climate Action Movement
Here is a brief timeline to call to mind how inspiring and effective this movement has been, building on 50+ years of climate science and 20+ years of climate advocacy:
- March 2019—“Putting the Blue in the Green New Deal,” outlines the initial 8-point plan.
- October 2019--A meeting of California leaders was convened to refine and expand the initial ideas (60 participants)
- January 2020—the first consensus draft of the Ocean Climate Action Plan (OCAP) was released and national comment sought (200 collaborators)
- April 2020—an international webinar was held to further vet the ideas in the Ocean Climate Action Plan, and take public comment (800 participants)
- July 2020—the final draft of the Ocean Climate Action Plan was released (with input from 1000+ people)
- November 2020—OCAP goals & language adapted for HR 8632 The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act of 2020
- March 2021—In his first week in office, President Biden expands federal leasing to 30GW of offshore wind power by 2030—a specific Ocean Climate Action Plan recommendation.
- April 2021—Ocean Climate Action (Virtual) Lobby Day. : the Ocean Climate Action Coalition held meetings with 107 Members of the House of Representatives and 33 Senators (1000+ people mobilized)
- April 2021—The Biden-Harris Administration commits to promoting living shorelines and decarbonizing the maritime sector, key OCAP goals as part of the US Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
- November 2021—Key elements of the OCAP plan were passed as part of HR 3684 the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (a down payment on clean ports and clean energy)
- December 2021—the Biden-Harris Administration announces an executive order to preserve 30% of US federal waters as Marine Protected Areas by 2030, another key OCAP goal.
- June 2022--“America’s First-Ever Ocean Climate Action Plan,” was announced by the White House on June 8, 2022 (World Ocean Day)
- June 2022—The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing entitled, “Turning the Tide for Ocean Climate Action: Unleashing the Climate Benefits of Our Blue Planet,” on June 9, 2022.
- June 2022-- The Biden-Harris Administration announced funding opportunities from NOAA’s $2.96 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds. This means nearly $3 billion for NOAA to take action over 5 years in the areas of habitat restoration, coastal resilience, and weather forecasting infrastructure.
- August 2022-Additional elements of the Ocean Climate Action Plan are included in the Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest funding of climate solutions in U.S. history
- March 2023-the Ocean Policy Council of the Biden-Harris Administration publishes the first whole-of-government Ocean Climate Action Plan.
- June 2023—the Center for the Blue Economy, Blue Frontier and 66 collaborating organizations publish the Turning Ocean Policy into Action “report card” with critical next steps for the Biden-Harris Administration in the next 18 months.
Looking back, it is remarkable how a small group of people grew into a national movement that is fulfilling it’s intended purpose: strong local and federal ocean-climate policy signed into law as soon as possible. The climate emergency is an ocean emergency. There is no time to waste.
“It’s time for boldness because there is so much to do!” - President Joseph R. Biden.
About the Ocean Climate Action Coalition
“The ocean is one of the most powerful tools we have to help head off the worst consequences of global climate change,” says Ocean Climate Action Plan signatory Mike Conathan in a recent Hill Article.
The non-partisan Ocean Climate Action Plan (OCAP) was developed in collaboration with hundreds of organizations and primary signatory supporters beginning in 2019 with Blue Frontier and the Center for the Blue Economy acting as convenors. OCAP, published in July of 2020, includes the best ideas from industry leaders, marine conservationists, academics, frontline communities, youth activists, and policymakers. It is a template for strong federal legislation, and indeed, many components of our work have influenced Congressional and executive actions, initiatives, and laws. After coalition building around the ideas in the Ocean Climate Action Plan, our next step was direct action—hosting meetings with top officials, and hosting the Ocean Climate Action (Virtual) Capitol Hill Lobby Day. On April 13th, 2021, a small, core group of the Ocean Climate Action Coalition met with 11 key federal agencies including: EPA Office of Environmental Justice, Dept. of Energy, NOAA, FEMA, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Transportation, Marine Mammal Commission, EPA Office of Water, Department of Commerce, White House Council on Environmental Quality/Office of Science & Technology Policy, and the U.S. Coast Guard. On April 14th, 1000+ members of the public were mobilized and held meetings with 107 Members of the House of Representatives and their staff, and 33 Senators and staff. The broad coalition (many of whom had never lobbied their elected representatives before) sent a clear message to our national policymakers: you cannot solve the climate crisis without ocean health, and ocean health is key to solving the climate crisis. Our advocacy work continues, and we are now working on a report card to hold lawmakers and the Biden-Harris Administration to account for their promises. There is no planet B. We have no time to waste.
For questions and suggestions, please contact the Ocean Climate Action Coalition co-organizer: