On Wednesday, January 27th, President Biden announced that it was “climate day”–and therefore “jobs day”– at the White House. In signing an Executive Order and Presidential Memo to “Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs and Restore Scientific Integrity Across the Federal Government,” he also made it a remarkable day for our ocean.
Here are six ways the President’s actions build the foundation we need to ensure a healthy ocean for generations.
Recognizing the serious harm that offshore drilling poses for our ocean and global climate, President Biden paused all new federal oil and gas leasing, including leasing in offshore waters.
Burning fossil fuels is the root cause of climate change and its effects. These effects, such as sea level rise, ocean acidification and ocean warming, are all impacting coastal communities and those who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods and way of life. In order to prevent further harm to our planet and our ocean, we must reach net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050, and stopping new offshore drilling is an important step toward this goal.
The Executive Order directs the Department of Interior to increase renewable energy production, including doubling offshore wind energy by 2030.
Accelerating our nation’s transition away from fossil fuels toward a clean energy future requires putting more effort and resources into developing renewables, such as sustainably-sited offshore wind. This type of renewable energy source improves air quality and reduces the emission of climate change-causing greenhouse gasses. The planning, construction and maintenance of this energy sources directly creates jobs for the communities they’re built in and around while contributing to a healthier climate and ocean overall.
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The President’s order sets an important goal to protect 30% of our lands, water and ocean by 2030, a goal also known as 30×30.
Protecting more of our ocean will not only help preserve its long-term health; it’ll also help preserve the astounding biodiversity that depends on it and support the communities that rely on it. Protected areas can make our ocean more resilient in the face of climate change as well as other threats like oil and gas development or emerging industries like deep sea mining. Ocean habitats, if taken care of and kept healthy, can also naturally store large amounts of carbon, known as blue carbon.
Protecting our ocean and balancing ocean uses, however, requires an all-in, coordinated, knowledge-based and transparent approach. As the new Executive Order illustrates, achieving the 30×30 goal for our ocean will need to include meaningful engagement and consultation with local communities, scientists, the fishing industry, states, Native American Tribes and other interests. Respect for Tribal sovereignty; free, prior and informed consent; and a place for Tribes at the decision-making table are all key elements of an equitable approach to 30×30. Through such an approach, we have the opportunity to strongly protect our ocean and support cultural values and resilient coastal and fishing communities all at once.
The President directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to initiate efforts to collect input from fishers, fishery management councils, scientists and stakeholders to ensure fisheries are resilient in the face of climate change.
Although the U.S. has been a model for sustainably managing fisheries, climate change impacts (including warming waters, ocean acidification and deoxygenation) are putting extra pressure on the fishery science and management system. Our fishing communities are facing increasing challenges due to fish stocks shifting away from traditional fishing grounds, declines in fishery productivity due to changing conditions and flooding due to sea level rise that inundates vulnerable homes and businesses. A robust input process which includes Tribes and stakeholders will help fishery managers ensure they have every science and management tool in the toolbox to keep fish populations healthy and fishing sustainable in the face of changing ocean conditions.
Wednesday’s Executive Order acknowledged that climate action must be centered around social justice and address disproportionate impacts.
Communities that are on the front lines of the effects of climate change are suffering from severely detrimental effects. The air where many these individuals live is polluted, and they lack access to clean water. They’re watching sea level rise overtake their community’s borders, and some are seeing traditional food sources disappear as our ocean acidifies. These individuals that are most affected are often also those that have been marginalized, pushed aside and discriminated against throughout history.
In order to help right these wrongs, environmental justice must be incorporated as a central part of climate resilience and action plans. Now, with the new Executive Order, every agency across the federal government is tasked with developing programs, policies and activities to address and work toward environmental justice initiatives. Further, the Executive Order initiates a Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool to identify these disadvantaged communities, ensure benefits from federal investments are targeted to these groups and foster continued equitable decision-making across the federal government.
Finally, President Biden’s Presidential Memorandum on scientific integrity ensures that White House policy is driven by scientific evidence–and that scientific evidence remains free of political pressure.
The Memorandum instructs agencies across our government, from NOAA to the Environmental Protection Agency, to make decisions based on the best evidence, science and data available–not politics. Each agency will also designate a Chief Science Officer to oversee scientific integrity and support scientists and their research. As we have all experienced over the past year, accurate scientific information is essential to sensible decision-making in the fight to further preserve and protect our ocean. Letting politics prevail over science undermines our ability to provide our coastal communities with the information and tools they need. Science must always drive this decision-making and policy formation. The Memorandum signed Wednesday ensures that politics will not warp this process.
President Biden’s actions give us renewed hope for our ocean and our efforts to solve the climate crisis. We look forward to continuing to work with the Biden-Harris administration as we progress towards a cleaner, healthier and more resilient ocean.