Climate change is making things even worse. Rising sea levels threaten to impact marine ecosystems, as well as inundate coastlines. Populations of fish are already moving towards the poles, while rising temperatures can also affect reproduction and cause coral bleaching. And carbon dioxide emissions are turning the seas more acidic than they have been for 300 million years, making it harder for shellfish and crustacean to build their shells and possibly making it more difficult for fish to breathe. Protected areas also offer natural defences that help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. They reduce the impact of such disasters as hurricanes, floods and landslides by acting as buffers for communities in the face of climate extremes. Without them, the climate challenge would be even greater. The ocean dominates the planet. It is where most of life on earth exists. What we do to it affects all natural systems. More than half the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by marine fauna. We are fortunately beginning to understand the ocean, not only how it functions, but also the value of life in the sea, not just as a marketable commodity but also for its role in a system that keeps us alive. We are finally catching up with what scientists have been slowly understanding, how our lives totally depend on the network of life that we have mostly regarded as stable forever. It is no longer tenable to exploit it at the level we have done in the past and still expect the ocean to deliver the services it has always delivered.
As it gets hotter, the soil’s ability to recycle organic matter and filter water declines. Changing temperatures, rainfall and wind pattern intensify many forms of land degradation with biodiversity casualties. If we continue to abuse the land and our ecosystems in the face of climate change, it is the world’s poorest who will be, unfairly, the major victims of our inaction. Eighty per percent of the world’s hungry live in rural areas, with 1.5 billion people living on degraded land. The poor rely directly on ecosystems and land for their food, livelihoods, shelter and health. The ramifications of ignoring good land management and thus the world’s poor are huge. The consequences are already visible, and will spread across borders.