Resilient Ecosystems Build Resilient Communities and Economies
Given By The Honorable Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D.
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere & NOAA Administrator
World Environment Center
Washington Sustainability Forum Roundtable
Monday, February 14, 2011, 3:00-5:00PM, National Press Club
February 14, 2011
- [You will be introduced by Robert (Bob) Kumpf, Senior Vice President of Bayer MaterialScience LLC.]
- Thank you, Bob. On behalf of Secretary Gary Locke and the 12,800 employees of NOAA, I thank the WEC and the Washington Sustainability Forum for the opportunity to be here today. I salute WEC for bringing together leaders to discuss sustainability opportunities and challenges.
- Two years ago today, I’d just completed my confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Nominated by President Obama as part of his science team, I was eager to begin my job, to become intimately acquainted with the NOAA team and to chart new territory in executing NOAA’s mission of science, service and stewardship.
- Little did I know that a year and a month into my job, we would be faced with an unprecedented disaster in the Gulf. A disaster that would challenge our will and skill to serve the Nation. A disaster that would provide heart-wrenching proof of how the vitality of coastal communities and their economies are deeply connected to the health of their coastal and ocean ecosystems.
- I am proud to say that the NOAA team performed spectacularly -- rising to the challenge of providing scientific guidance to the response, ensuring seafood safety, protecting habitats and wildlife, and now assessing damage and enabling restoration. The oil has stopped flowing, but our work continues. We remain fully engaged and committed to a complete recovery of the Gulf ecosystem and its people.
- Although the Deepwater Horizon disaster dealt a serious blow to Gulf Coast communities, economies, and ecosystems, a transition to full recovery and sustainability must address systemic issues that started long before the spill.
- The Gulf of Mexico is a microcosm of the global sustainability challenges we face today. Prior to Deepwater Horizon, chemical and nutrient pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing, climate change, and invasive species had already taken their toll on the health and resiliency of Gulf Coast ecosystems. Depleted and disrupted ecosystems cannot and are not providing the suite of benefits that people want and need – in this case, seafood, opportunities for recreation, inspiration, and education, speed bumps to hurricanes, carbon storage, wildlife havens, nutrient cycling and more.
- Now is a pivotal time not only for the Gulf -- but indeed for the planet. Actions taken today and in the next few years will determine the future health, prosperity, and wellbeing of people around the world -- whose lives and livelihoods depend on healthy, productive, and resilient ecosystems.
CALL TO ACTION
- The environment is changing rapidly and radically, with profound consequences for humanity. The accelerating pace of change presents daunting challenges – and opportunities – for communities, businesses, nations, and the global community to make a transition toward more sustainable practices and policies.
- Your presence here today indicates your commitment to advancing sustainable practices. I applaud your efforts to integrate sustainability into businesses and operations. Your leadership is helping advance a new environmental ethic and craft innovative, win-win solutions.
- In my time today, I wish to share how we at NOAA are approaching some key sustainability issues, as well as how we view the daunting challenges ahead. I welcome your thoughts on how we can work together. The magnitude of this challenge requires an unprecedented level of coordination, cooperation, and creativity from all sectors.
PROGRESS AND UNDERSTANDING
- I am inspired by the progress that has been made to address sustainability challenges through the actions of business leaders, government agencies, scientists, non-governmental organizations, journalists, and individual citizens.
- However, far too many Americans, including business leaders still view concerns about the environment as a barrier to economic progress. Choosing between the economy and the environment is a false dichotomy. Long-term economic prosperity will require attention to ecosystem health. We need solutions for achieving economic growth while maintaining and recovering the life-supporting services provided by ecosystems. Doing so will require innovation – one of the President’s themes for the budget he’s announced today.
- Through advances in science, we know that the depletion and disruption of our ecosystems is leading to the loss of valuable services on which humans depend – services such as water purification, control of pests and pathogens, buffering of coastal areas from storms and tsunamis, and the provision of food.
- We know that adopting more sustainable practices and policies can translate into business opportunities, enhanced competitiveness, brand loyalty and employee retention for industries, and improved job security and livelihoods for workers.
- Science plays a key role in identifying the options, trade-offs and consequences. While these choices are ultimately society’s to make -- they should be informed by science.
NOAA’s ROLE IN SUSTAINABILITY
- NOAA provides a good model for how science can and should be useful and how science is used to frame and make choices:
- NOAA scientists, in concert with our partners, advance understanding through scientific research, observations, monitoring, modeling, and assessment efforts.
- We communicate scientific knowledge broadly and provide science-based services to inform societal choices.
- We use our knowledge to “lead by example” and to be good stewards of oceans and coasts, e.g., in our own sustainability initiatives and through our policies and management practices.
All of these efforts require innovative partnerships and approaches to be truly successful.
- Let me describe a few of the initiatives underway that demonstrate NOAA’s sustainability mission of science, services, and stewardship, as well as our vision of building resilient ecosystems, communities, and economies. I will highlight 3 areas where NOAA is providing leadership in informing or implementing sustainable practices: climate services, spatial planning, and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.
#1: NOAA’s CLIMATE SERVICES
- Few environmental changes affect our economies, ecosystems, and livelihoods more than climate variability and change. Up to one-third of the U.S. gross domestic product is directly influenced by weather and climate. Information about climate change is essential to smart planning. As we seek to grow businesses or achieve sustainable use of resources, we must make decisions based on the likely conditions of tomorrow, not yesterday or today.
- Climate change is underway. 2010 was tied with 2005 for the warmest year on record. More and more, Americans are witnessing the impacts of climate change in their own backyards. These impacts include longer growing seasons, increases in heavy downpours, drought, earlier snowmelt, changing patterns of precipitation, and many others.
- As a result of these impacts, individuals across widely diverse sectors – from agriculture, to energy, to transportation – are increasingly asking NOAA for information about climate change in order to make the best choices for their communities and businesses.
- Last year, Commerce Secretary Locke and I announced the intent to form a Climate Service to meet the rising tide of these requests by bringing together the agency’s strong climate science and service capabilities. The Climate Service would allow NOAA to provide a single, reliable, and authoritative source for climate data, information, and decision-support services and to more effectively work with our Federal and non-Federal partners.
- The President’s FY 2012 budget, announced just hours ago, includes a detailed reprogramming proposal to establish a Climate Service within NOAA. Building upon our accomplishments and momentum gained over the last year, we will continue to engage with Congress in the coming year to seek approval of the proposed reorganization. Following Congressional approval, NOAA will move quickly to implement the proposed re-organization.
- In the meantime, NOAA is working with our partners and stakeholders, and operating within our existing organizational structure, to build upon the climate science and services that we provide to Americans. This critical information supports efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change to infrastructure, ecosystems, and human health and welfare.
- The emerging Climate Services portal, “climate.gov” is one mechanism for sharing our information broadly.
- The establishment of the Climate Service would also support a new category of economic innovation: entrepreneurs and businesses that specialize in the provision of climate services and products. As climate information is made available to the public, we anticipate that entrepreneurs in the private sector will find opportunities to tailor services to meet the unique needs of farmers, retailers, urban planners, resource managers, and others as they plan for the impacts of a changing climate.
- Therefore, the development of climate services will contribute to job creation and economic growth. This has similarities to the growth of the weather service enterprise, in which a strong private sector builds off core information provided by NOAA’s National Weather Service to provide additional national and international weather services.
- In addition to creating job opportunities, NOAA’s Climate Service will provide valuable information for existing businesses. NOAA currently works with a diversity of industries - from commercial oyster hatcheries to Kona coffee farms to farmers and ranchers in the west – to provide timely climate science and services in support of decisions that minimize risk and maximize opportunity in the face of climate change.
- Efforts underway to address sustainability must also factor in climate change. NOAA’s Climate Service can help.
COASTAL AND MARINE SPATIAL PLANNING
- A second arena in which NOAA is focusing its sustainability efforts concerns fostering sustainable uses of coasts and oceans. The Nation’s economic vitality depends on healthy oceans. America’s productive coastal regions and waters contribute tens of millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to the national economy each year.
- To work toward improved understanding and decision-making in coastal and ocean areas, the Federal Government is currently pursuing a systemic and comprehensive approach for effective ocean management. Last July, the President signed an Executive Order establishing the Nation’s first-ever Ocean Policy.
- This document states clearly that healthy oceans matter. And it outlines a bold vision for more holistic, ecosystem-based management of our oceans – management that more accurately reflects our scientific understanding of the multiple and interacting impacts of humans on coastal and ocean ecosystems.
- A major priority of the Policy is a framework for coastal and marine spatial planning, a management tool for minimizing conflicts among users and reducing impacts on ecosystem functioning. Increasing demands on ocean space for diverse uses, including tourism, recreation, fishing, shipping, national security, oil and gas exploration, and wave and wind energy, have led to more and more conflicts among users, as well as additional impacts on already stressed ocean ecosystems. Coastal and marine spatial planning is a process that enables integrated, forward-looking decision making through an ecosystem-based, spatially explicit approach.
- The focus on stewardship is intended to enable a vibrant suite of sustainable uses for generations to come. In short, while it is OK to use oceans and coasts, it is not OK to use them up.
- A cornerstone of the National Ocean Policy is the critical role of partnerships at all scales. The Federal Government is already working to improve interagency coordination for ocean management. In addition, many of the actions outlined in the Policy will be implemented at local-to-regional scales. Regional coastal and marine spatial plans will be established across the United States through nine regional planning bodies that include Federal, state, and tribal representatives.
- The investments and improvements articulated in the National Ocean Policy, and implemented through coastal and marine spatial planning, will advance the nation’s economic interests:
- Advancing sustainable and productive ocean uses;
- Improving capacity to address the long-term challenges and impacts of climate and other environmental changes;
- Providing a lasting foundation for improved stewardship; and
- Enhancing the many vital benefits that the Nation derives from coastal and ocean resources.
SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE
- Coastal economies and livelihoods depend on healthy fisheries. Healthy fisheries are integral to our efforts to achieve healthy oceans and healthy people. And so, I turn now to the third of my three examples: sustainable fisheries. At NOAA, we use science-based conservation and management approaches to end overfishing and promote sustainable fisheries. In addition, we are embracing innovative approaches to better align economic and conservation incentives.
- Evidence shows that NOAA’s 35 years of science-based management are paying off: the U.S. fish populations that were previously overfished are now rebuilt or actively being rebuilt.
- In addition to traditional fishery management approaches, NOAA is encouraging proven alternatives such as the use of “catch shares.” In the latter approach, in lieu of industry-wide quotas, fishermen are allocated individual quotas, referred to as “catch shares” of the total allowable catch. The goal is to provide fishermen and communities with a secure asset in order to promote stewardship and align economic and conservation incentives.
- The concept of catch shares, pioneered in Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland, has now been implemented for hundreds of fisheries throughout the world. Scientific evidence indicates that implementation of catch shares can halt, and even reverse, trends toward widespread fishery collapse. To date, 14 fisheries in the United States have adopted catch shares management approaches, and the number grows every year. The results have been impressive: sustainable fisheries, improved economic performance of the fishery, decreased environmental impact, and increased safety at sea. For example, in Alaska’s halibut and sablefish fisheries, the length of the fishing season was extended from less than a week to eight months per year, bycatch dropped by 80%, and safety improved sharply. While catch shares are not necessarily suitable for every fishery, they appear to hold promise for many.
- However, even if all wild-caught fisheries are fully rebuilt and managed sustainably in the future, the amount of seafood generated will be insufficient to meet the needs of our growing global community. As the aquaculture industry grows, we need to ensure that the policies and practices are sustainable and forward-looking. Therefore, NOAA is working with partners to develop sustainable forms of marine aquaculture that create new jobs, foster synergies with commercial fishing, enhance food security, and decrease the global burdens on overfished stocks.
- For example, a private company in Sitka, Alaska is currently using a technique developed as a joint NOAA-USDA initiative to convert the waste of local fish processing facilities into a variety of products, including aquaculture feeds, rather than dumping it back into the sea. Creative approaches such as fish-waste conversion reduce the need to catch forage fish, therefore decreasing the impacts of the aquaculture industry on wild-caught fisheries and ocean ecosystems.
- NOAA is also working to broadly share information on sustainable fisheries with the public. As public awareness of fisheries issues increases, consumers want to know more about their seafood choices. To meet this demand, NOAA launched the FishWatch website to provide relevant facts about seafood, including scientific, management, and sustainability information. This resource enables consumers to make more informed decisions about the seafood that they eat.
CONCLUSION: HOPE AND URGENCY
- Drawing these three examples together and focusing on the big picture, we see progress being made as part of a transition to sustainability. Practices and policies that build resilient ecosystems also build resiliency in communities and economies. This interconnectedness is central to success. New and innovative solutions are needed to recover and sustain ecosystems and the services that they provide.
- Progress is being made through the efforts of many – communities, businesses, NGOs, and governmental agencies. Inspiring actions are occurring at local-to-global scales:
- As industries develop commitments to source only sustainably caught or farmed food
- As consumers make more informed choices
- As creative endeavors seek to achieve the “triple bottom line” of “people, planet, and profit” – not just “profit.”
- However, the challenges loom large:
- While our public understanding of sustainability opportunities and challenges has grown . . . it has not grown quickly enough.
- While we have made progress on sustainability efforts . . . further progress could be hindered by the current economic crisis, the looming deficit and pending Congressional budgetary decisions.
Continued progress is key to future sustainability and economic recovery. Innovative approaches to find and enable environmental and economic synergies are needed as the new “business” model.
- Restoring the health and bounty of our planet’s life-supporting systems is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime. I invite you to join us in exploring ways we can work together to advance the sustainability dialogue and agenda.
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