If the oceans were a state, they would have the world's eighth largest economy, with a "gross ocean product" of around 2.5 trillion dollar annually. The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) puts the total of all assets of the world's oceans at at least 24 trillion dollar. In Europe alone, around five million full-time jobs depend on them. Nearly three billion people depend on fishing and aquaculture as primary sources of protein. More than 50 percent of the world's oxygen is produced by the oceans.
"Although the world's oceans are of inestimable importance to our planet, we are mercilessly stressing them with global warming, overfishing and water pollution. If we continue to treat them in this way, almost 50 percent of all living creatures in the oceans could disappear by 2100," says Paul Buchwitz, portfolio manager of DWS Invest SDG Global Equities.
Oceans swallow CO2 and heat – that's not good news
The oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the extra man-made heat from the atmosphere since 1970, according to calculations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reasons for the ability to absorb more than a thousand times as much energy as the atmosphere would store for a comparable temperature rise are the high heat capacity of water and the sheer mass of the oceans.
But what initially sounds like good news is actually potentially devastating. "One consequence is thermal expansion that will cause sea levels to rise much more than the melting of Greenland's glaciers. This poses an existential threat to many people: about 40 percent of the world's population lives within a 100-kilometer coastal strip," Buchwitz explains. In addition, the rising temperature means that the water layers are less well mixed and many creatures are no longer supplied with sufficient oxygen and vital nutrients.
The same picture emerges when looking at CO2: According to calculations by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the world's oceans absorbed about 31 percent of total man-made emissions of the greenhouse gas from 1994 to 2007. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the pH value in the top layer of the oceans has thus dropped to 8.1 from 8.2. Thus, acidity has increased by about 30 percent. "This over-acidification is particularly threatening to calcifying creatures such as corals, shellfish and starfish," says the portfolio manager.
Fish stocks 90 percent depleted – and regulation fizzles out
Overfishing of the world's oceans, driven by a persistently high demand for seafood, is responsible for other serious damage. More than 90 percent of global stocks have already been exploited. Bycatch accounts for nearly 40 percent of the total catch, and an estimated one hundred million of already endangered dolphins, sharks, rays and whales are thrown back into the oceans, mostly dead as waste. Regulations by states or organizations for the sustainable management of resources often only have a partial effect, as up to 30 percent of the globally consumed amount of seafood comes from unregulated catches. "It is true that farms now account for 49 percent of the supply. However, these often do not operate in a particularly sustainable manner, feeding fishmeal, for example. In addition, aquacultures are repeatedly responsible for diseases of wild stocks when infested animals escape from a farm," Buchwitz explains.
Dolphins and whales fertilize phytoplankton -– if it weren't for the waste in their stomachs
It's not just fishing methods that threaten dolphins and whales, for example. Around 80 percent of the pollution of the marine habitat comes from the land -– from untreated wastewater, fertilizers and pesticides to the plastic waste found in the stomachs of the stranded carcasses of these animals. Here, too, the consequences are far-reaching: dolphins and whales excrete iron and nitrogen, precisely the substances needed for growth by phytoplankton, which produce at least 50 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere.
"Given the importance of the oceans to the planet as a whole, and in light of the numerous and massive threats to this habitat, we need to act quickly and comprehensively. To do that, we need smart solutions," says the portfolio manager. "As part of our engagement, we are therefore taking the opportunity to encourage companies to act more sustainably."
One way, he says, is to make aquacultures more sustainable. Feeding fish meal to animals, for example, can be replaced by feeding them fly larvae. The black soldier fly, for example, is predestined for this, and its offspring can be fed on manure produced by factory farming. "With a view to the future of the world's oceans, it is a great challenge to find such solutions," Buchwitz says.
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About DWS Group
DWS Group (DWS) is one of the world's leading asset managers with EUR 793bn of assets under management (as of 31 December 2020). Building on more than 60 years of experience, it has a reputation for excellence in Germany, Europe, the Americas and Asia. DWS is recognized by clients globally as a trusted source for integrated investment solutions, stability and innovation across a full spectrum of investment disciplines.
We offer individuals and institutions access to our strong investment capabilities across all major asset classes and solutions aligned to growth trends. Our diverse expertise in Active, Passive and Alternatives asset management – as well as our deep environmental, social and governance focus – complement each other when creating targeted solutions for our clients. Our expertise and on-the-ground-knowledge of our economists, research analysts and investment professionals are brought together in one consistent global CIO View, which guides our investment approach strategically.
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