Why we need a nature positive future for the ocean

It’s been a hard summer. Devastating wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, and other extreme weather continue to impact communities around the world. The climate crisis—caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and land conversion, and compounded by El Niño this year—is driving unprecedented global heating and contributing to the breakdown of nature, the life support system for all living things.

At the same time, we owe thanks to an unlikely powerhouse for climate and nature: the ocean. The ocean and its rich ecosystems absorb massive amounts of heat, nurture intrinsically and economically important biodiversity, and store carbon in mangroves, seagrasses, and kelp forests, which also buffer coastal communities from extreme weather events. Along with life on the rest of the planet, ocean health is under pressure from unsustainable production and consumption, fueled by global economic, social, and political systems that take more than they give.

It seems easy to fall into despair, as the trends for biodiversity and climate move in the wrong direction. But social science¹ offers a hopeful insight: imagining positive visions of the future can help us to make better plans and realize improved outcomes. So, I invite you to take a step back, and imagine: it is the year 2050, and the planet’s life is thriving, including the ocean and coastal communities. What does daily life look like? What systems and conditions are in place to support the well-being of all?

The global conservation community is championing this visioning process through the “nature positive” movement. Along with net-zero and equity goals for the future, nature positive describes a future in which humanity lives in harmony with the rest of nature.

Nature positive is a global goal to halt and reverse nature loss measured from a baseline of 2020, through increasing the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations, and ecosystems so that by 2030 nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery. By 2050, nature must recover so that thriving ecosystems and nature-based solutions can continue to support future generations.

Nature Positive by 2030 graph

This vision is ambitious—and necessary. It is also critical to recognize that the ongoing climate and inequality crises, which are interlinked with nature loss, are driven by the same unsustainable systems and therefore have common solutions. To bend the curve for biodiversity loss, address climate change, and resolve global inequities, scientists are increasingly² calling for³ “transformative change4—fundamental system-wide changes to paradigms, goals, and values across social, economic, and political systems. In other words, our work on nature positive must also be climate and people-positive, addressing the root causes of the global crises in tandem.


What might transformative change for a nature, climate, and people positive future look like for the ocean?

 All stakeholders have a critical role to play in designing holistic solutions. For example:

Governments must adopt new policies to contribute to a nature-positive future— aligned with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework—including expanding and strengthening marine conservation areas and other nature-based solutions, reforming fisheries and fossil fuel subsidies, providing additional public funding for nature, and enacting additional policies to align consumption and production with safe and just Earth system boundaries5. This means creating the enabling conditions for all life on Earth to thrive.

Companies and financial institutions in sectors including seafood, shipping, marine renewables, and others must recognize the critical role of nature for their bottom lines, and take real action. Emerging frameworks including the Science-Based Targets for Nature and the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures will provide guidance to support these transformations as businesses assess their supply chains, set targets, transform business models, and disclose their impacts and dependencies on nature.

Non-governmental organizations can provide leadership in setting standards, convening, implementing solutions, and holding governments and the private sector accountable for their commitments. For instance, the recently launched global Nature Positive Initiative will align major actors on standards and guidance, ensuring that nature-positive claims are credible to avoid greenwashing.

Scientists must continue to generate and assess knowledge on the actions and systems changes required to reach a nature- climate- and people-positive ocean and translate insights for decision-makers. Flagship examples of this work include ongoing assessments through the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) on Transformative Change6 and Business and Biodiversity7.

The media, while continuing to raise the alarm about the many crises we face, should also increase its coverage of positive ocean solutions. These can be powerful tools to help us reimagine what is possible, provide motivating hope, and bring the ocean to life.

Citizens, artists, and youth can also be a part of this movement through engagements to create and advocate for change within their political, social, and economic systems for our shared ocean, at every level.

And all actors can co-design tools, research, campaigns, frameworks, and action plans with other types of institutions for more durable and effective outcomes. We can continue to encourage shifts in mindsets, moving from demand for “silver bullet” fixes (like protecting single species or places in isolation) to holistic solutions that address root causes of biodiversity loss and heal the relationship between people and the rest of nature.

This is a high-level non-exhaustive overview of some of the transformative changes we will need to reach a nature, climate, and people positive future for the ocean and our planet. Along the way, there will be disagreements about how we should get there, but this is normal for any paradigm-shifting change. Overall, the movement must act with compassion, recognize and embrace diverse views grounded appropriately in different contexts, and especially draw on the values and wisdom of Indigenous peoples and local communities who have stewarded nature since time immemorial. Through this societal effort, we have our best chance of creating a thriving future for the oceans and all life on Earth—for ourselves and future generations.

How is WWF working toward a nature, climate, and people-positive future for the ocean?

WWF focuses our ocean work to deliver both nature-positive seascapes—halting the decline of marine environments and regenerating target ecosystems and marine resources–and markets and finance work that engages business to contribute to a nature-positive future and innovative blue financing to deliver scalable, durable global oceans solutions.

Rachel Golden-Kroner is Director of Nature Positive, Oceans, at WWF.


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