What do policy makers really want to know about ocean acidification and its potential impacts?  How can scientists, non-government entities, other stakeholders and community members help to answer their questions?

On October 7-11, the OA Alliance was invited to attend a Technical Cooperation project meeting between members of Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC) held in Guayaquil, Ecuador.  The meeting brought together member governments from Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia working to advance regional science as part of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network.

The OA Alliance presented a half-day workshop focused on best practices in communicating OA science to decision and policy makers and other stakeholders, drawing upon lessons learned and experiences from our national and subnational government members.

Since our launch in 2016, we have learned a lot about the kinds of questions decision and policy makers are eager to ask, particularly:

(1) What are the species, economies, communities and cultures that will be impacted by ocean acidification?  Are they in my jurisdiction and does my constituency know about this issue?

Of course, decision makers are curious to learn more about the potential impacts to species that are important within their own region.  The more information that scientists and policy makers have about the variability of ocean and coastal waters locally, the better.  Communicating the importance of investing in biological response studies or other population models relevant to locally important species– like lobsters in Maine, Salmon in Washington, or shrimp in Ecuador–is a good way to help communicate the risk and potential vulnerabilities in one community or region. 

(2) How is ocean acidification different than other climate issues?  Is there anything we can do now that will make a difference?   

We get asked this question a lot. In addition to questions about ocean warming and interactions with ocean acidification. Policy makers often ask why they should focus on OA compared to other urgent issues like sea level rise and extreme weather events.  We respond that the goal isn’t necessarily to prioritize OA more than other climate related ocean threats, but we must ensure that ocean acidification—knowledge and potential actions—is a critical part of a suite of ongoing ocean and climate related science and management efforts. While we must work to reduce carbon emissions globally, there are things that governments can and should be doing now to better prepare and make management choices that maximize resilience.  Local actions to reduce causes and exacerbators of ocean acidification matter!

(3) What should our priorities be? / Where should we focus our efforts?

There is only so much time to focus on priority issues and a limited amount of money available to support important work, so where should we begin?  Are there geographic areas in my jurisdiction that are more vulnerable to ocean changes than others?  Scientists, non-government entities and other stakeholders can help governments identify knowledge gaps and prioritize where best to focus limited resources, whether  commissioning regional vulnerability studies or identifying hotspots.

(4) How does ocean acidification fit into existing management frameworks?

Often times, governments already have climate action plans, adaptation measures, coral reef monitoring and restoration strategies or other ocean management policies in place.  It’s important to help decision and policy makers understand how ocean acidification can be incorporated into existing management strategies and monitoring systems including efforts related to ocean observations, water quality, stormwater, wastewater or other sources of pollution or land-based run-off.

(5) How does action on ocean acidification support existing high-level commitments?

Many national and subnational governments have already made commitments to implement UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 or draft and update a Nationally Determined Contribution pursuant to the Paris Climate Agreement.  Many are engaging in other efforts like the Framework Convention on Biological Diversity, Aichi Targets, Blue Economy or Commonwealth Blue Charter initiatives.   By addressing ocean acidification, investing in regional science and creating an “OA Action Plan,” governments are helping support and implement these other commitments.

The workshop helped advance communication goals of the OA-ICC and of government members who are part of the Technical Cooperation project.

“The final coordination meeting of this inter-regional Technical Cooperation project allowed participants to assess progress and discuss ways to continue collaboration in the future,” said Lina Hansson  Associate Project Officer at the OA-ICC, “Participants have received different levels of ocean acidification training throughout the project: from basic to more advanced. They are now ready to communicate their research to a broader audience – and hopefully contribute to inspire concrete action to address ocean acidification in their countries.”

The goal of the OA-ICC is to act as a hub to communicate, promote and facilitate international activities on ocean acidification. These are divided into three categories: science, capacity building and communication. The target audience is not only scientists, but any group or individual interested in ocean acidification, such as policy-makers, the media, schools and the general public.

The OA-ICC brings together experts to discuss issues of relevance to the global ocean acidification community, organizes training courses, compiles and centralizes information, as well as provides a number of online resources.