by Susan H. Little
The Grantham Institute Annual Lecture 2018
His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco
1 March 2018
In 2017, the BBC’s Blue Planet II plunged viewers to new, murky depths. Breaking hearts with stories of plastic waste and baby pilot whales, it swept to the National Television Awards Special Impact Award.
The Oceans, and human impact on them, were suddenly thrust to the centre stage of public consciousness.
Now it’s 2018, and this month the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, hosted His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco to deliver its 10th Annual Lecture.
Appropriately, the affectionately titled ‘Green Prince’ spoke about the Oceans. His focus? The threat of Climate Change, and a suggested new way forward: a sustainable ‘Blue Economy’.
After campaigning for over 25 years on environmental issues, including setting up his Foundation whose purpose is to protect the environment, Prince Albert II has certainly earned his nickname.
His Serene Highness also stands out as the only head of state to visit both poles. And, obviously a fan of cold climes, he competed in bobsleigh for Monaco in five successive Winter Olympics … so luckily wasn’t put off by the polar conditions that greeted him in London!
HSH Prince Albert began the lecture with a plea: now is the time for scientists, policy leaders, economic players and civil society to devote the time and effort needed to safeguard our oceans.
Why? Because the oceans are a key player in global climate, absorbing more than a quarter of anthropogenic (human-produced) CO2 and 93% of the excess heat caused by human activity.
“The health of our oceans is suffering from the effects of climate change. The warming of the waters greatly endangers ecosystems and damages their biodiversity. Ocean acidification affects certain species… and the melting of glaciers increases sea level and damages the health of polar ecosystems.”
Yet it was only in 2015 at COP21 in Paris, 23 years after the Rio Earth Summit and 18 years on from the Kyoto Protocol, that the Oceans even made it ‘onto the negotiating table’ as a relevant player in global climate.
Three years on from Paris and great strides have been made, culminating in a new UN Special Envoy for the Oceans (Mr Peter Thompson of Fiji).
Nevertheless, HSH Prince Albert argued that much more must be done; and efforts are being held back as some states fail to act.
HSH Prince Albert attributed scientists (that includes Geochemists!) a central role in the effort to convince sceptics. It’s time to step up our efforts to provide the data that will direct future policy and investment decisions.
Like Blue Planet II, His Serene Highness highlighted plastic pollution as one area of growing public awareness, urging action, including an expansion of wastewater treatment. According to the UN, 52% of the world’s wastewater is currently left untreated.
Despite the challenges, HSH Prince Albert also highlighted the ocean of opportunities that awaits a civilisation that loves and respects the sea.
Like a ‘green economy’ has sprung up around renewable energy and sustainable development, so ‘blue growth’ is ripe to be invented.
This blue economy may include initiatives such as solar- or hydrogen- powered shipping, harnessing ocean-based renewable energy sources like the wind and waves, and promoting tourism and managed fishing in newly created Marine Protected Areas.
Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of the Grantham Institute, said:
“Thanks to progressive international agreements informed by scientific evidence, and humanity’s sense to do the right thing, there is a new hope in the notion of the blue economy, the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs.”
Or, as His Serene Highness ended, with Winston Churchill:
“What is the use of living if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?”