Research Handbooks in Environmental Law series
Edited by Rosemary Rayfuse
Chapter 20: Ocean acidification
The oceans are vitally important to the regulation of the Earth’s climate. The oceans have put a brake on global warming by being a store of ‘blue carbon’, taking up around a third of all carbon released from human activities. But while this has been beneficial for the climate, one side-effect has been ocean acidification. This is the progressive change in the chemistry of the world’s oceans as they draw down carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. It is widely recognized that ocean acidification is changing ocean productivity, with major implications for ocean ecosystems and the societies and economies dependent upon them. This chapter examines how ocean acidification is addressed in international law. It is seen that the phenomenon is currently not directly controlled by any treaty regime, and is indirectly regulated by an uncoordinated assortment of environmental treaties and soft law instruments. The precautionary principle, and the desirability of sustainability goals for the oceans, suggests the need for the international community to set a single upper limit for the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to match both climate change and ocean acidification mitigation goals.
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