Working with partners to evaluate the potential of blue foods in climate adaptation and mitigation strategies

Fresh seafood at the market in the City of Tacloban, Eastern Visayas region. Photo credit Marcial Bolen.

Over the last couple of years, EDF has actively worked to raise the contributions of aquatic foods in transforming food systems and making progress on 9 of the 17  the Sustainable Development Goals—global goals established under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a universal call to action to end poverty, to protect the planet, and to ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

Leading the Secretariat of the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition, EDF has engaged with more than two dozen governments and NGOs on elevating the importance of blue foods on the global stages, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP), the forum for climate negotiations that produced the landmark Paris Agreement. Most recently at, UN Ocean Conference, UNFCCC COP27 and UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 the Coalition mobilized attention and support for aquatic foods in national and international efforts to protect biodiversity and to achieve climate goals, such as the Paris Agreement. Until this point, aquatic foods have previously been left out of such efforts and discussions.

We are excited today to continue this momentum by joining a new project led by the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, in partnership with WorldFish, the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and CARE USA. This work will spotlight how these overlooked solutions in the water can play a role in achieving our global climate ambitions. The movement to build sustainable food systems in the face of climate change has long focused on land-based crops and livestock, but this project will look toward the contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to reduce the carbon footprint of food systems, which currently emit 30-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The EDF team will work with our partners to synthesize existing research that international climate negotiators use to assess how blue foods can contribute to low-carbon food systems. The research findings will also shed light on certain high-emission blue food species that have large environmental footprints, exacerbating environmental pressures. As climate change increasingly threatens food systems with more powerful storms, moving fish stocks, and frequent droughts, rapidly reducing emissions is key to protecting food and nutrition security while reducing environmental footprints both on land and in the water.

“We know that many blue food species can have low-carbon footprints and that climate change can place blue food contributions at risk…Now, we have an opportunity to work closely with countries and local partners to spotlight successes and ensure decision-makers have the insights they need to implement adaptation and mitigation solutions.” – Michelle Tigchelaar, a research scientist at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions

Michelle Tigchelaar (COS), Rahma Adam (WorldFish) and Howaida Nagy (CARE Egypt) discuss blue foods and prosperity at a Resilience Hub panel at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt November 2022. The new project will bring additional insights to international climate dialogues. Photo courtesy of the Resilience Hub.

Building on the Blue Food Assessment, including research illuminating climate risks each country will face, and environmental pressures from blue food production, the project team will map how blue foods could contribute most to low-carbon food systems. For example, shifting diets to low-impact species like bivalves or small pelagic fish, or reducing blue food loss and waste, could support climate-resilient solutions. This analysis will consider how these contributions can promote food and nutrition security, sustainable livelihoods, and gender equity, and will provide a crucial foundation for decision-makers seeking to develop policies and programs that capitalize on the potential of blue foods.

The team will also convene researchers from around the globe to develop scientific guidelines for how all countries can include blue foods in their Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans. These plans translate national commitments into action and are key components of the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. These guidelines will bring new insights to international policy dialogues, including at the next UNFCCC COP. This work will underpin the continued efforts of the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition in supporting countries, or groups of countries, that want to integrate blue foods into their food systems and policymaking.

In addition to developing global guidelines, the research team will work on five case studies focusing on countries from Asia, North America, and the tropical Pacific region to tailor the guidelines to local contexts and spotlight initial successes.

Countries around the world face different challenges as they work to address climate change and food security. For instance, in Indonesia, flooding, increasing temperature and sea-level rise are becoming more common due to climate change, putting both rice crops and fisheries at risk. However, Indonesia’s extensive mangrove forests, which serve as blue carbon ecosystems, can potentially provide crucial adaptation and mitigation opportunities by sequestering carbon and offering coastal protection and nursery habitat for juvenile fish.

Meanwhile, in countries with increasing demand for blue food, such as Ghana, boosting low-carbon production practices could present promising solutions. Ghana’s recent Aquaculture Development Plan aims to increase aquaculture production by 136 percent by 2027. Targeted breeding of low-carbon species or ensuring deforestation-free fish feed could help reduce emissions for the growing sector. By working at country and local levels, the project team can surface valuable insights on how sustainable solutions can be scaled up in other regions, as well as lessons for negotiators at international conferences such as the UNFCCC COP on how to bring blue foods into food and climate actions.

“We’re excited to co-develop research questions with local decision-makers, stakeholders and scientists that can shed light on place-based policy needs, potential win-wins, and opportunities to ensure more equitable futures,” said Moushumi Chaudhury, Senior Technical Advisor on Climate Justice at CARE USA. “Countries have a chance to be climate-smart as they consider the ways blue foods can contribute to national climate, food, nature, and social policies.”

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