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Going Green: Policy watch

Fisheries experts see change is afoot with CO2 emissions cuts to curb ocean acidification

By Lisa Duchene
January 01, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series 
on ocean acidification's effects on seafood supply.

Clem Tillion doesn't get very excited about global warming. Alaska's former fisheries czar, who has worked on fisheries policy since before Alaska's statehood in 1958, views global warming as a human-amplified, natural process.

But Tillion is very concerned about ocean acidification, the oceans' changing chemistry due to absorption of industrial carbon dioxide emissions that threatens entire marine food webs. Tillion, a self-described free-market Republican, supports policies that favor home-grown, clean energy like geothermal energy in 
Alaska, and a curb on carbon dioxide emissions, but not through a carbon tax.

While the latest numbers indicate the world has not made much progress 
on cutting CO2 emissions driving ocean acidification and climate change, some are optimistic that a sea change on carbon is nonetheless underway.

Key voices - like Tillion's - are increasingly engaged in the carbon debate, says Brad Warren, director of the productive oceans program at Seattle-based Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. Warren works not to lobby, but to inform 
seafood companies about ocean acidification and help them manage the business risk it presents to a sustainable seafood supply. He watches the policy landscape closely and is encouraged by 
a number of signs that it is ripe for meaningful reduction in global CO2 emissions.

"[Changing energy policy] is a long, hard process," says Warren. "You're talking about really transformative changes in the energy economy. The appetite for doing that work is developing in both major parties."

In baseball terms, the game has changed to small ball: While sluggers have failed to hit grand slams, there are plenty of singles and stolen bases in play. In other words, Warren is not discouraged that the United Nations climate talks have so far not produced a binding agreement among 190-plus countries to reduce their carbon emissions, or the failure of a climate bill to be passed by the U.S. Congress.

"What will happen now is a bunch of smaller measures that are bite-sized that people understand," says Warren. "It's one atmosphere, so anywhere you can get at the problem is just as good as anywhere else. There's no need to regard a setback in one area as a catastrophic failure."

Another seafood industry voice out front on the ocean acidification issue is Bill 
Dewey at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Wash. Dewey, Taylor's director of public policy and communications, learned firsthand how ocean acidification disrupts supply when Taylor's oyster hatchery production dropped 60 percent in 2008 and another 80 percent in 2009. Puget Sound seawater, corrosive to oyster larvae, was blamed for the high mortality rates. "We definitely are encouraging legislators and congressional delegates to pass carbon-emission limits," says Dewey.

Yet, his position is hardly industry-wide. There is controversy around such limits and what they will cost businesses as the U.S. economy is powered by burning fossil fuels. Republicans gained significant ground in the 2010 midterm elections, when the U.S. climate bill - pegged as "cap and tax" and now considered dead in the Republican-controlled House - was a political liability for Democratic congressional candidates.

Politically, the seafood industry is considered conservative. The National Fisheries Institute has not taken a position on limiting carbon dioxide emissions in any arena, according to spokesman Gavin Gibbons.

Scientists say significant cuts in global CO2 emissions are needed 
to head off the most severe effects of ocean acidification and a warming planet.

In order to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius this century, the target is annual global CO2 emissions of 44 gigatons - or billions of tons - by 2020 followed by more steep emissions cuts, according to a Nov. 23 report from the U.N. Environmental Program. The report, issued on the eve of the next round of U.N. climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, aimed to compare global climate pledges with scientific advice. If countries don't cut emissions, annual global CO2 emissions are predicted to climb to an average of 56 gigatons by 2020.

In Copenhagen in 2009, 85 countries agreed to non-binding pledges of emissions reductions. If all those countries follow-through on all their pledges, estimated global emissions would reach 49 gigatons by 2020 - 60 percent of the way, but falling 5 gigatons short of the 44-gigaton target, according to the U.N. report.

In Cancun on Dec. 11, representatives of 193 nations agreed on ways to help developing countries cut carbon output and adapt to effects of climate change. While making progress, the Cancun talks did not - nor were they expected to - reach a binding, carbon-reductions agreement among the countries.

On the U.S. stage, Warren predicts policies that will meet multiple goals of reducing energy dependence, creating jobs and reducing both energy costs and carbon emissions.

Tillion, for example, favors a geothermal project in Adak, Alaska, on a U.S. Navy base in the Aleutian Islands that he says would reduce CO2 emissions. The project also could provide inexpensive energy to allow the Pacific cod industry to locally process product that now goes to Portugal for secondary processing because expensive diesel fuel makes the cost of local processing too high.

Tillion has been calling on Alaskans to protect their economy and fisheries by supporting a national policy to limit CO2 emissions and investing in the state's renewable-energy resources.

"We need law that will establish a new national energy policy, put a price on carbon, reverse ocean acidification and promote renewable energy infrastructure and the jobs that go with it," Tillion wrote in a recent editorial in the Anchorage Daily News.

Tillion's passion could extend to seafood-related businesses in the Lower 48 whose success or failure will ultimately be linked in the near future to ocean acidification.


Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte, Pa.

January 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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