Are the economy and climate on a collision course?

NOEP Final Report 2016 -FrontPg.378New data on the economic health of the ocean and coastal economies suggest that future growth will largely take place in the narrow band of coastal lands threatened by climate change and sea level rise. The forecast is contained in the latest report from the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP), a unit of the Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA.

“The most recent data on the coastal and ocean economies of the United States show trends consistent with a national economy recovering from the deep recession of 2007 – 2009.” The report notes that economies of the coasts and coastal oceans are disproportionately large and therefore account for much of the total U.S. recovery. But within coastal states, potentially important changes are underway, the report forecasts. Population patterns are shifting so that major cities, most located in coastal areas, are growing. These coastal regions will bear the brunt of most future growth at a time when the impacts of climate change are accelerating. These coastal regions account for more than 80 per cent of the total U.S. economy.

Utilizing a new tool, the Ocean Economy Coincident Index, the NOEP calculates that the ocean-related economy will likely continue to outpace the overall national economy in growth. The compilation of data through 2014 demonstrates that most major ocean economy sectors were strong, except for a decline in living resources, primarily seafood harvesting and processing. The report notes that the major driver of that growth through 2014 was in offshore oil, gas, and minerals that was fueled by rapidly rising oil prices.

“However, that rising trend has of late obviously changed, with oil and gas prices tumbling in late 2015 and early 2016,” said Dr. Judith T. Kildow, Director of the National Ocean Economics Program. “It bears close watching to see how this new development plays out over time.”Kildow also said that while growth in coastal and ocean economies continued at the same time that threats to ocean health increase, federal resources directed at understanding and managing these resources declined. “Federal resources in fiscal year 2016 are at essentially the same level in dollars, $20.8 billion, as five years earlier,” she noted.

Put all of this together and you have a recipe for disaster: more coastal growth, stronger coastal climate change impacts, and yet less federal resources to mitigate these tensions. According to Center for the Blue Economy Director Jason Scorse, “Something has to change. We have to be much more proactive about rethinking our relationship with the coasts if these engines of growth are going to continue to thrive. If not, America is in big trouble. ”

See the full 2016 National Ocean Economics Program Report