[H.eco Forum] Humanity must step up efforts to better protect marine ecosystems, say experts

[H.eco Forum] Humanity must step up efforts to better protect marine ecosystems, say experts

Leading environmental experts step in to raise awareness and offer solutions to threatening changes

Chun Seung-soo, professor emeritus of Chonnam National University, explains how marine and coastal environments have changed abruptly in response to climate change, at the H.eco Forum on Thursday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

At this year’s H.eco Forum, experts took a moment to highlight the ongoing and expected changes to marine ecosystems due to climate change and discuss the efforts needed to protect the environment and prevent disasters and socio-economic challenges. economic.

Chun Seung-soo, Professor Emeritus of Chonnam National University, started the session by talking about how marine and coastal environments have changed abruptly and discussed ways to mitigate and adapt to expected coastal disasters. of sea level rise.

The director of the Eco Horizon Institute, who is also a member of the Man and the Biosphere Program of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, played a central role in the inscription of the Korean mudflats on the UNESCO World Heritage List last year.

“The sea level rose much earlier than we know, and the only reason we care about it now is that the rate of rise is much faster than before,” Chun said. “It’s getting faster and faster every moment, that’s why we have to figure out what we need to do to move forward.”

As noted in the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change may cause various socio-economic disasters, water shortages and inland crop productivity, Chun said, as well as as disturbances of the marine ecosystem due to changes in sea temperature and ocean currents.

Chun pointed out that changes in the coastal environment and erosion and flooding induced by sea level rise can also lead to serious socio-economic problems. Even if global carbon neutrality is achieved by 2050, Chun said sea level rise is inevitable.

“Even if we achieve carbon neutrality now, sea levels will continue to rise until 2030,” he said. “Korea is a country with a narrow land area and long coastal regions, so we will inevitably be affected by this trend.”

The expert said in his lecture that humans must equip themselves with humility and respect for nature before tackling sea level rise. Rather than trying to prevent water from getting on land, South Korea must be prepared to abandon the areas it has occupied when the waters encroach on the coasts.

“It is not possible to prevent water from rolling with sea level rise; it’s just not a sustainable way to deal with this change,” Chun said. “We have to have a mindset that we have to give back to nature. This is the philosophy that environmentally conscious people have when seeing climate change.

Chun advised South Korea to carefully assess the types of changes expected in each part of its coastal areas and be prepared to move cities and their residents to higher ground if necessary. He added that programs should be implemented to ensure that the country’s unique environmental assets are preserved.

“Compared to other advanced countries, South Korea hasn’t done much in response to sea level rise,” Chun said. “We need our own plan to deal with these changes with a mindset of accepting what is to come instead of trying to fight it.”

Preserve whales to protect themselves

After Chun’s speech, Herald Business reporter Lee Jeong-ah offered a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Last Sea,” a series of video reports the publication produced to shed light on the severe damage done. to humans. inflicted on the marine environment.

The three-part series reveals how unique marine species in South Korean territory have lost their lives and habitats due to overfishing, pollution and other human-caused damage.

Lee also moderated a panel discussion with Moon Hyo-bang, Professor of Marine Science and Convergence Engineering at Hanyang University; Jang Soo-jin, founder and president of the Marine Animal Research and Conservation Center; and Kim Mi-yeon, vice president of the MARC center.

The three marine experts gave additional insights based on the Last Sea series and agreed that the production raised awareness of the severe, life-threatening harm humans have caused to marine animals, especially whales.

The panel emphasized that whales are mammals that share many characteristics with humans and are species that can directly reflect the severity of environmental damage to marine ecosystems. The three experts said whales are indicator species that can provide signs of what is to come for humans.

“If sea water becomes polluted due to human behavior, we may face a situation where whales will become sick,” Moon said, adding that human health, the environment and its animals are inextricably linked. the sea offering a glimpse into the future of humanity.

The risks whales face teach us lessons, the panel said.

“When humans are hurt, it’s not just problems with humans, but there must have been previous similar signs from the environment and animals,” Moon added. “Therefore, the sea is where we can foresee things that might happen to humanity or things that happen to us that we are unaware of.”

30×30 initiative for marine recovery

Nam Sung-hyun, a professor of environmental studies at Seoul National University, ended the session by speaking with Greenpeace Korea ocean activist Kim Yeon-ha about the “30×30” initiative, a global conservation effort considered the key to marine recovery.

The initiative asks governments around the world to commit to protecting at least 30% of the earth’s land and oceans by 2030, which will be a step towards preserving existing intact and wild areas around the world. respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and ensuring that the planet is managed sustainably.

Nam pointed out that the 30×30 target is an important goal to achieve, as the oceans occupy 70% of the planet’s surface and are home to 80% of all species on Earth. Damage to the ocean environment could have irreparable consequences, he said.

Kim pointed out that the oceans have been damaged at an alarming rate due to global warming, fishing activities, resource extraction and plastic and chemical pollution, adding that humans have done very little to protect the environment despite being aware of these negative changes.

Less than 2% of the high seas are designated as protection zones and only about 1% of the high seas prohibits human activities, Kim added, saying that no international treaty has been signed to effectively and strategically protect the high seas. sea ​​of ​​man-made pollution.

To achieve the 30×30 goal, the panel called on the South Korean government to work with other governments to designate ocean protective areas and to commit to working as a responsible member of international society by supporting related activities. public and private sectors.

The Korean government must understand the long-term benefits of ocean protection, panel members said, and use it as an opportunity to develop related sectors and inspire others to draft strong international laws to protect oceans. open seas. The country should show leadership and break with its tradition of chasing after others, the panel advised.

Nam and Kim also called on the media to help raise awareness of the 30×30 initiative so that it is seen as a key program in the fight against climate change. The general public should also be aware that carrying out the initiative will result in immediate benefits for people, they added.

By Ko Jun-tae and Yim Hyun-su ([email protected]) ([email protected])