World Leaders Gather to Grapple with Climate Change

November 30 2015

More than 190 nations will come together at the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) at the end of November. Its goal is to finally agree on international measures to tackle and combat climate change. For nearly 20 years, world leaders have been struggling to achieve a legally binding agreement to curb the impacts of climate change.  And while the Kyoto Protocol, drafted in 1997, laid important groundwork for an international agreement, it has unfortunately languished for nearly two decades.

At COP21, the expected outcome is international agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees. Global leaders must strive to reduce emissions in order to curb greenhouse gases that are warming our planet and exacerbating climate change in order to reduce climate change impacts which face our ocean, waves and beaches.

Over the last 15 years, the Surfrider Foundation doubled its efforts to respond to the impacts of climate change on our ocean and coastlines. Coastal communities have been experiencing its disruptive effects from rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and ocean acidification, which threaten some our nation’s most valuable assets.

Accordingly, the Surfrider Foundation focuses its climate change adaptation and preservation work on:

  • Shoreline Protection Policies.  Advocate for “setbacks” on development, minimize dredge and fill impacts, shoreline armoring and strengthen shoreline armoring  regulations.
  • Insurance Reform. Advocacy for broad ‘insurance reform, improvements of FEMA policies, and the closure of multiple loopholes at the state and federal level that subsidize redevelopment of areas damaged by sea level rise and increased storm activity.
  • Coastal Realignment Policies. Advocacy for coastal realignment as a primary solution for handling development threatened by sea level rise.
  • Mitigation. The Surfrider Foundation approach to mitigation includes the Ocean Friendly Gardens program, and advocating for stronger coastal ecosystem management with the use of blue carbon.

It is imperative leaders elevate the importance of our oceans and coasts when approaching climate change policy. At COP21 Summit, the Surfrider Foundation believes that the following must be addressed in terms of mitigating the effects of climate change on our ocean and coasts:

Sea Level Rise. Governments and leaders must incentivize and support funding opportunities that help local communities conduct vulnerability and risk assessments in order to evaluate how expected sea level rise (SLR) impacts will affect the people, development, infrastructure, and natural resources within a vulnerable community. For example, measures that assist with SLR adaptation are utilizing ‘soft structures’ instead of hard structures on beaches that accelerate erosion (such as sea walls, jetties, rock revetment, etc.). Other measures that assist with SLR adaptation are dune building and restoration, targeted sand replenishment projects, ‘living shorelines’ (i.e., installing oyster beds offshore, utilizing natural materials to buttress shores, marshes, estuaries, etc.) and re-aligning ‘at risk infrastructure’ by moving structures out of harm’s way).

Decision makers must account for impacts to “recreation and public access” related to climate change. As sea levels rise, public beaches will shrink impacting how the public can access the beach. In addition, narrowing beaches could alter ocean recreation opportunities such as surfing spots.

Coastal Development Standards. Governments must improve development standards by supporting “setbacks” and comprehensive land use planning. In the context of sea level rise adaptation, setbacks establish a minimum distance from the coast beyond which property owners are allowed to erect or maintain structures.

Marine Protected Areas.  Global governments must make a commitment to increasing the number of  of marine protected areas (MPAs). Only 1% of our ocean is currently ‘set aside’ as a protected area. Global commitment and investment in the implementation of MPAs will help improve ocean resiliency by building stronger habitats that can better withstand a changing ocean.

Ocean Acidification. Roughly half of all carbon dioxide produced by humans since the industrial revolution has dissolved into the world's oceans. The absorbed CO2 is changing the chemistry of our oceans and many shellfish are literally dissolving. A decrease in CO2 will help curb ocean acidification.

Insurance Reform. State and local governments should institute broad ‘insurance reform’, and close loopholes, which subsidize redevelopment of areas, damaged by sea level rise and increased storm activity.

The Surfrider Foundation encourages our national, state and local leaders to enact climate change mitigation and adaptation policies to protect our ocean, waves and beaches from the effects of climate change. 

Learn more about climate change adaptation here.