A Canadian researcher is at the centre of a provocative new international study that puts an eye-popping price tag on the damage being done to the world’s oceans and fisheries a cost that could reach $2 trillion a year by 2100 from carbon emissions, over-fertilization, over-fishing and other human impacts.

University of British Columbia fisheries economist Rashid Sumaila, a leading critic of international fishing policies, is co-editor of the 300-page Valuing The Ocean report released last week at the high-profile Planet Under Pressure environmental conference in Britain.

The study, touted as a “unique,” monetary assessment of global ocean health and threats, is the latest attempt by ecosystem-conscious scientists to affix financial value to planetary resources taken for granted in traditional models of economic activity.

The idea, the researchers say, is to have citizens and policymakers experience a kind of sticker shock when “the actual monetary value of the critical ocean services that we stand to lose” is revealed through a scientific-economic calculation.

“By stressing the links between multiple marine stressors and the huge value of the vital services that the ocean provides to humankind,” Sumaila told Postmedia News, contributors to the report “hope to help kick-start decisive, integrated action to strengthen ocean governance and management across all scales, from local to global.”

The report, co-edited by Sumaila with Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, encompasses studies from an international team of economists, ocean scientists and others who attempt to “tally the costs and savings associated with human decisions affecting ocean health,” according to a summary of the publication.

Diaz said in a statement that the report provides an overview of “the state of the science for six threats to the global ocean, what can happen if all these threats act together, and the economic consequences of taking or not taking action.”

Overall, the researchers estimate that eroding ocean health will translate unless environmental reforms take hold into a $428-billion annual loss to the global economy within 40 years. That cost will rise to $1.979 trillion per year by the end of this century if nothing is done to curb detrimental human impacts on the oceans.

But the report also offers a glimmer of hope, concluding that aggressive measures to reduce harm to the oceans could constrain the yearly cost to about $600 billion by the year 2100 saving the global economy more than $1.4 trillion compared with the status-quo scenario.

“The cost of inaction will rise with every year we delay. Planning and acting now will save money and livelihoods in the future,” Sumaila said in an email. “These potential costs, and the actual value of the services the ocean currently provides from food (think fish) to storm protection to tourism and transport must be fully integrated in broader economic and development plans, and incorporated in the intricate business of climate change accounting (including in Canada with its three oceans).”

The project was co-ordinated by the Swedish-based Stockholm Environment Institute, which said in a statement that “the ocean is the victim of a massive market failure,” and that “the true worth of its ecosystems, services, and functions is persistently ignored by policy-makers and largely excluded from wider economic and development strategies.”

Sumaila said that “the combined global and local threats to the ocean are unprecedented in human history. Incremental change and business-as-usual will not suffice.”

But the global ocean crisis “can be rectified,” the UBC researcher added, “if the ocean and the services it provides are placed at the heart of global efforts to build a green economy for the future.”

Postmedia News