How to Fund Ocean Conservation

As proposed by Karl Burkart’s “Show Me the Money: a New Slogan for the Climate Movement

Our premise here is that climate change, the over-arching global challenge of the moment, is a function of the ocean. Every problem we face — emissions, acidification, waste, pollution, sea level rise, extreme weather events, and so much more — connects directly or indirectly, from mountain-top to coast to the ocean floor, through the water cycle freshwater/saltwater continuum. I’ve said it often before: The Sea Connects All Things.

Public awareness, through media coverage and first hand experience of climate change, is high, and there is much concern and conversation about solutions — policy and law, regulation and enforcement, innovation and capital investment, and anecdotal evidence of change in the form of some government initiative, some alternative technology, some venture support, exists but is clearly inadequate to the urgency and cost. How, then, do we fund, at appropriate scale, the necessary action? How do we amass and focus the capital required to make this transformational change through effective monetary policy and investment? Is there a way forward?

In a recent article by Karl Burkhart, Deputy Director of One Earth, and former Director of Media, Science & Technology at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, lists several strategies by which to create the funds required through significant financial reforms and reallocation of existing resources to meet this urgent global need.

First, understand that we have nowhere enough capital available even to address successfully just one part of the problem. Estimates of funds required to meet the 1.5 degree Centimeter goal of the Paris Climate Agreement exceed $1.5 trillion per year, about one third of which has been committed, not all of which has gone to such critical needs as alternative energy and infrastructure that address the problem at its core.

Context: understand that governments globally have allocated $16 trillion to the Covid crisis, saving millions of lives in the short-term but prolonging the investment in other strategies to protect many millions more. To meet the IPCC goal then, existing investments would have to triple at a time when all available assets are under critical stress.

Second, given this circumstance, to advance is to increase the available funds through taxes, always a controversial challenge to governments heavily committed to the status quo. Various options have been suggested: a return to more equitable income tax rates, aggressive collection of unpaid taxes, pursuit and enforcement of tax fraud, increase in corporate taxes, elimination of corporate subsidies, and a wealth tax for the super-rich.

Context: according to the 2021 Credit Swiss Wealth Report, the richest 2.5 million individuals on earth (the top .03%) hold a staggering $100 trillion in assets, much of which is sheltered. A 1.5% wealth tax on this group is estimated to generate enough available capital to fund the entire climate transition.

Third, de-fund the polluters. We are subsidizing our demise through policy that can be changed, an action with double value: the removal of incentives to pollute and the added value of pollution reduced and no longer inserted into the atmosphere or water cycle.

Fourth, swap the debt. This financial tool has been used to address unpayable national debt, forgiven in exchange for major land conservation actions in areas of wilderness — forests and streams — as designated conservation zones protected from further industrial development. This has worked in South America especially, and is working now in the Caribbean where small island nations have exchanged debt for large defined marine protected areas to sustain marine resources including coastal habitats, mangrove forests, coral reefs, and villages that derive their sustenance from the sea.

And finally,

Fifth, boycott the banks that are the primary tools for this mis-investment. A recent Climate Chaos Report, prepared by the Rainforest Action Network, asserts that in the years since the Paris Agreement, “the world’s 60 biggest banks have financed fossil fuels to the tune of $3.8 trillion,” the investment of our deposits and mortgage payments into the most destructive , anti-social climate factor of all. And, even more recently, under the guise of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) principles, these banks, and the receiving corporate entities, are included in recommended investments for high net worth individuals, endowments, pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, and the banks themselves as “acceptable” alternatives to traditional strategies proven bankrupt. A wave of greenwash of almost tsunami scale.

These five changes can be made, but only with the comparable change in political will and dedicated investment in a future that is equitable for all. The ocean may seem indifferent to this monetary policy, but it is not. It pays the price for this every day everywhere. It used to be invisible, but no more. It used to be immune, but no more. It used to seem impossible to destroy, but no more. If there was nothing to be done, we might despair. There are powerful tools available, only as useful and effective as those who wield them.

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. He is also host of World Ocean Radio, upon which this blog is inspired. World Ocean Radio celebrates 12 years this year, with more than 600 episodes produced to date.

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