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Water Today Title December 15, 2017

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Life as we know it would cease without the ocean



The Interview
Why it will cost $2,000,000,000,000 a year by 2100 to save our oceans

Ussif Rashid Sumaila Author, Professor and Director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC Fisheries Centre
April 10, 2012
Related info
Valuing Ocean Environment - Economic Perspectives
Valuing Ocean Environment - Draft Executive Summary
Who is Ussif Rashid Sumaila?



A new study coordinated by SEI (Stockholm Environment Institue) shows climate change alone could reduce the economic value of key ocean services by up to 2 trillion USD a year by 2100, and urges world leaders to make the oceans a priority in global sustainability goals.

The study, Valuing the Ocean, is the work of an international, multi-disciplinary team of experts, including SEI researchers. The full report is slated to be published as a peer-reviewed book later this year; a preliminary Executive Summary is being released to inform preparations for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June.

Water Today talked with Ussif Rashid Sumaila, one of the editors of this study about the economic consequences of action or inaction. A transcription of the interview is available below.



Interview Transcript

Water Today
Few people are used to talking about trillions of dollars. It seems that you are. Can you tell us how it is that you came upon talking about this much money?

Rashid Sumaila
Yeah. You know we - a group of us started looking at all the major threats to the ocean, ranging from overfishing to climate change, ocean acidification, hypoxia, pollution and the like and then we decided to look at what it will cost society or what society will lose if we allow the damages that come from these activities to take place on the ocean. You see what I'm trying to say? So essentially we're out to say that if we were, for example, to stop overfishing, how much more value would we contribute to the world economy? If we were to stop the warming of the oceans, right, with all that it entails, how much would we save for the world? So that's how we build up this number to $2 trillion, you know, into the future.

Water Today
We're talking about $2 trillion over what kind of time period you're speaking? This is an enormous amount of money.

Rashid Sumaila
It's an enormous amount of money but very soon I will talk about this in terms of global gross domestic product and then it wouldn't look that large when I do that. But essentially, this is what we project will be the annual losses in 2100 if we allow warming, ocean acidification, et cetera to take place, right? In that year. That's an annual amount actually.

Water Today
When people talk about acidification, when they talk about climate change, these are all fairly well used but somewhat generic terms when it comes to the public at large. When you talk about acidification, what do you mean?

Rashid Sumaila
Essentially, what scientists are seeing is that the more carbon dioxide, CO2 greenhouse uptake we have in the ocean, the more acidic the waters become, right? So acidification, that's what it means. So the pH is rising, right? And so you have acidification increase and then as you know, me and you, in general you don't want acid to touch your skin for example so - because it's quite corrosive and so the same with the fish. As the ocean becomes more acidic, it becomes more and more difficult for them to live in the ocean, everything being equal. So that is what we are talking about here.

And if you look at the global ocean, what we see is that acidification is likely to be more in the poles, towards the poles, the North Pole, the Arctic, for example. Acidification is going to more than in the tropics and this is counter to the general climate change and that is we see where because oceans are getting warmer, fish in general move towards the poles because it's cooler there, right? So again, climate change, when the ocean warms up, if it was me and you, again, you have a window, you open your window and fresh in comes in and cools you down. The fish don't have that. Or you put on your air conditioning. No, they are not able to do that. What they do if they can move is to move towards cooler waters, so there will be redistribution of fish in the ocean and in this case, the tropics are going to suffer most because that's where the warm water is and they are moving towards the poles

Water Today
Mr. Sumaila, when - if I was to go up to any number of people on the street and say, "Do you care about 2100?", some people would say, "Well, yes," and then some people would say, "Well, no." Do you find that when you put these kinds of reports out that people are quite willing to wait until 2100? They might be hoping for better science, more inventions.

Rashid Sumaila
Yeah, yeah. Excellent question. You know there was a time I gave a talk actually about overfishing and what it means for our children and grandchildren and somebody came to me after my talk and said, "You know, all that you say here is reasonable to me but why should I care? I don't care about the future generations." So yeah, you get those kind of reactions really when people say, "2100? I don't care. I mean whatever happens, it should happen; it's not my business." But like you said also, there's quite a big chunk of us among the population who care about what we pass onto our children and what they pass onto their children and so these kinds of numbers speak to them now. To do about the numbers don't speak to, those come in long into the future, we also do calculation of (inaudible) numbers. We calculate numbers in the next 20 years, next 50 years and even the next 10 years we do that. In our report actually you see estimates with 2050 and then 2100; that's what is in the report but you can different scenarios and see this.

Water Today
Mr. Sumaila, let me interrupt you there. (Inaudible) you were talking about next year. You want someone, and I'm not sure whom you mean, but you are hoping that next year someone will cut a cheque. Where would you expect a cheque to come from, sir, and how much do you think these cheques are?

Rashid Sumaila
In terms of dealing with the problems, is that what you're saying? If we want to be a bit more specific, you know, when we talk about overfishing, right? We say okay, there's too much fishing both out there, just too few fish and too many people, and so if you want to deal with that problem specifically, it's clear that one of the things you have to do is to cutback the fishing effort and then we get the reaction, similar to what you are saying. "Hey, what do I do with our fishermen, right? Next year." You know, and that is a big challenge and we're struggling with that. What I usually say is that, you know, if you take all the fish and fish - and if you take all the fish for your fishermen today, what will they do tomorrow? Again, somebody will tell me tomorrow will take care of itself.

Now, another thing that is quite clear is what about this crisis where it will define (phon) the resources, right? Think of the cod stocks and Newfoundland. When they crashed, suddenly the nation could find $2 billion to deal with the crisis because there was a crisis at hand and this is one of the things I really think we need to look closely. Instead of being reactive, instead of taking action when the damage is done, we should find a way, and I know it's not easy politically and otherwise. We should find a way to deal with these problems more proactively because we will save money by doing that.

Water Today
Mr. Sumaila, when you say we'll save money, we should find a way, clearly from the paper that you've put out, you are a clear thinker. Who have you pitched - I guess pitched is the right word - who have you suggested we could be more proactive with and what are some of the responses? Could you give me maybe a good guy and a bad guy scenario?

Rashid Sumaila
A good guy and a bad guy scenario? You know one of the things I realize our kind of work is doing is getting the attention of very influential people and one of the most recent ones is Prince Charles himself, right? He has become so active on ocean issues. He just launched an international sustainability unit, this year actually. I was invited - I was part of the group that was invited to England to go and launch this and he's talking a lot about this. You probably know that he's had interest in the environment for a long time. So we are getting the attention of really influential people in that sense. The Prince of Monaco is also one of them, so that's at that level. And then we have reactions from the public themselves, people on the street. I get calls here and emails. In fact, one of the recent ones I got was from a grade 11 girl in Victoria here. She left a message on my telephone and wrote me an email. 'You know I just read about sharks and what is happening to them,' she said, 'the shark finning business and I want to be able to do something to help stop this.' So she writes me and we talked on the phone, 'what can I do'? So we do get the public reacting on a personal level and that I value a lot because in democracies, in fact even in non-democracies these days, leaders are realizing that they just have to listen to the people ultimately. You know, you can ask Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and he will tell you, right, what the people power can do. So I have a lot of hope that what we are doing gets through, through your work, too, media people, journalists get the information to the public and hopefully that will inform what our choices - at the political level, too - and get us moving in the positive direction.

Water Today
Mr. Sumaila, tell me about how you put this together and with whom.

Rashid Sumaila
How we put the report together. You know, there are about in all about 12 chapters in the paper and we have contributors from around the world and there are three editors of the report and that is me and Kevin Noone of the Stockholm Environment Institute and Bob Diaz of the Virginia Tech University in Virginia. So the three of us are editing this and we have climate scientists, we have ecologists and economists working together because this is an interdisciplinary piece of work because you cannot do it alone and economies alone cannot do it. I have to understand how, for example, ocean acidification is likely to affect the biophysics of the ocean and therefore the ecology before I can take that and do the valuation as an economist. So it's a group of us working together to kind of come up with some insights for society to take action.

Water Today
Mr. Sumaila, I know when I sit down to do any kind of compilation, there is always a surprise in the numbers that I really didn't see coming. Can you tell me a bit about that? Were there surprises?

Rashid Sumaila
Oh there were and the size was a surprise, I mean the $2 trillion was a surprise to us, the sheer size of the number. In fact, what we were - in one of the reports we tried to see how a trillion dollars does, how does it look? The number a trillion, and that we couldn't actually easily find anything that goes up to a trillion, right? Like only dollars do that, essentially, so the number was quite large and quite surprising. But then, like I said in the beginning, we turn this into GDP because these are all projections, right? What we did was to project - to (inaudible) the of damages, all these damages potentially, how they will look through time, up to 2100. Then we look at projections of population, right? Then the population of incomes and therefore the demand for fish, so you look at the supply and the demand ultimately to make these projections and as you can imagine there's a lot of uncertainties in there so we ran scenarios rather than say this will happen, we'll say what happens if that happens and then we make these calculations.

So at the end of the day what we did was to convert the 2 trillion into GDP terms, into GDP terms and actually it's only about 0.4, 0.5 percent of the global GDP projected in those years. So if you think in terms of GDP, it's not that large actually, right?

Water Today
So you're saying that in the year...

Rashid Sumaila
Twenty-one hundred.

Water Today
That people are going to be looking at total GDP of $25 trillion.

Rashid Sumaila
Yeah, 25 trillion, more than that actually. So I'm talking about about half a percent, so the $2 trillion is just 0.5 percent of global GDP. At the moment, global GDP is about $40 trillion already.

Water Today
Yeah. When you were compiling this, Mr. Sumaila, could you tell me, were people involved? In other words, was the population of India accounted for? Was there a specific number of people?

Rashid Sumaila
Yes, we had - every country is in the report. I mean all the projections - actually we depended a lot on UN population projections, right? And they usually provide these numbers, estimate them. The 7 billion that was estimated in the UN Population Office and they're projecting about 10 billion in 20 years or so, 2050, I don't remember exactly. So that's what we used to project and India is in there, China is in there. Yes, they are all in there, and there are projections of their GDP growth from now until then also, yeah.

Water Today
Wow, just enormous numbers. Let me ask you a couple of more questions. When you look at all of this money, all of this study and you pitched it to people like Prince Charles, these kinds of folks, when there's buy-in, how - is this a question of saving lives or is this the famous tipping point that everybody talks about? Are you past the tipping point in 2100 with all of these trillions?

Rashid Sumaila
Yeah, you know the tipping point could be past, I mean, you know, and that was a very good point because in this study we were assuming small changes. You know, we haven't even considered really crazy changes like falling off the cliff (inaudible) and so these are actually conservative numbers that we put up and people are talking about the possibility of tipping points coming by 2100 if we don't take action on these aspects, especially with the mitigation of greenhouse gases.

Water Today
Yeah, let me talk about climate change. Almost everybody would buy into, or at least I think more than less people would buy into the oceans are going to rise. Is this the kind of thing that you looked at?

Rashid Sumaila
Yeah, yeah. We looked at - yeah, we looked at that. Yeah, we looked at and what will it mean with all the hurricanes and the typhoons and so on, yeah. Sea level rise is part of the study, absolutely. We did look at it.

Water Today
And I'm wondering when you looked at some of these catastrophes, or catastrophic events I believe they're called, is that also calculated? Moving the cities back, the flood plains, all of this kind of thing.

Rashid Sumaila
Yeah, yeah. Moving the cities back and moving people away, you know? Two weeks ago I was in Taiwan, in Chinese Taipei and we were invited to talk about extreme weather events and their impacts on fisheries and aquaculture. In 2010, Taiwan suffered a huge, a big typhoon run through them and it was unbelievable. They have never seen anything that large and the intensity was just crazy. Even people living in higher land were taken away by what happened, you know, and this is really a good example. The devastation was huge but at the same time the country did a wonderful job of really resettling people. I mean when we were shown the video, we were amazed at how good they were in dealing with the problem, right? So that is an example of what is happening with the sea level rising, all the hurricanes and the typhoons and it scares me a lot. Actually, at that meeting almost every country - this was APEC, Asia Pacific Economic Council meeting so you have countries right at the meeting and each one of them were talking more about adaptation than mitigation because adaptation is easier, right, to sell politically. Oh we are adapting our country to climate change; we take care of ourselves and that's theirs. But what I told them is that actually the world has to really talk about mitigation because I see adaptation as a very expensive venture and even strong countries - rich countries may find it difficult to face what is being predicted and I told them, "God forbid if what happened to Taiwan were to happen again." I mean it's good to be (inaudible) for the country to do what they managed to do for the people after the first one so let's work on mitigation. I know it's tough politically but the world has to find a way to deal with this.

Water Today
Mr. Sumaila, I have tremendous respect for the work that you do and how you do it, sir. I want to point out I know my schoolyard politics though. If we have five kids and we all have to agree on something, the odds of that are very slim, and then even past that, if we did agree, how do we get past the classic schoolyard case of who goes first? I mean is it an issue of the United States cuts (inaudible) and no one else does? How do you logic a country to go first?

Rashid Sumaila
Yeah, this is a very difficult one. You are alluding to what is known as the prisoner's dilemma game. I'm sure you are aware of this.

Water Today
Yes I am.

Rashid Sumaila
The prisoner's dilemma, that's the way the world is. I mean who is going to (inaudible)? Who is going to move first? And this is a classic problem and my response to this thing is, "Actually if you look through the history of the world, the way we have dealt with big problems is for either an individual in nation or community to say, 'look here, damn the economics. Damn the prisoner's dilemma game. I am going to do what I know and believe is right,' right? And usually when you have one or two persons or countries doing that, slowly, in many instances, not always, they manage to move the world and I think this is what we need here." Locally, here in BC, a couple of years ago the provincial government decided to tax fuel, to tax fuel at $0.02 I think per litre towards trying to help us reduce our CO2 emissions and it passed through, the society actually allowed that.

I was at an economic meeting after that and people were asking, 'How - why should BC do this? This is stupid. Our CO2 emission is not much and this wouldn't change anything," and I think the Province is saying, "Hey, we do it anyway because we believe this is the right way to go." I think we need some countries - the big ones because they have more moving power - if the US were today to say, "Look here, we're going to do something about this," I think that would move (phon) the world and I'm hoping that with time, before it's too late, the society of some big countries are going to say, "let's just move ahead and get this thing solved because in the end it doesn't benefit us and anybody."

Water Today
Mr. Sumaila, I want to thank you for doing this and I want to ask you one more question before you hang up.

Rashid Sumaila
Go ahead. Yes, go ahead.

Water Today
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Rashid Sumaila
I am an optimist actually and that is what keeps me going. I mean, you know something? In this - my centre - you know I'm Director of the Fisheries Centre, too, and the students tell me I'm the one who smiles most here though which is quite surprising with all the numbers we've come up with, right?

Water Today
Yeah, yeah.

Rashid Sumaila
We have to keep going. I mean I think this is how our world has moved forward through time. You cannot give up; you have to keep hope alive and keep pushing. I think we'll do it. I just hope that we'll do it in time, you know?

Water Today
Mr. Sumaila, thanks for doing this.

Rashid Sumaila
You're very welcome. Thank you.

Water Today
I wish you a good day. Bye bye.

Rashid Sumaila
Thank you. Take care. Bye.

Water Today
That was Rashid Sumaila. He's - he is from the University of British Columbia and he runs the Fisheries Department Centre there in the University of British Columbia. My name is Water Today and this has been an interview on water.ca. Thanks for listening.
















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