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Visualizing the Human Impact on the Ocean Economy

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Human Impact and the Ocean Economy

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Visualizing the Human Impact on our Ocean Economy

When you think of economic output, it’s likely the ocean isn’t the first entity that comes to mind. But from facilitating international trade to regulating the climate, the “blue economy” contributes significant value in both tangible and intangible ways.

The sustainable use of the ocean and its resources for economic development and livelihoods have such far-reaching effects, that its protection is a significant goal of the United Nations, as well as for many other countries and organizations throughout the world.

However, these vital ocean assets are in danger of sinking quickly. Ahead of World Oceans Day on June 8, 2020, we look at the total value of assets that come from our ocean, and how various human activities are affecting these resources.

Global Ocean Asset Value

Economic value from all the oceans is measured both by their direct output, as well as any indirect impacts they produce.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, these combined assets are valued at over $24 trillion. Here’s how they break down:

  • Direct Output: Marine fisheries, coral reefs, seagrass, and mangroves
    Total value: $6.9T
    Examples of direct output: Fishing, agriculture
  • Trade and Transport: Shipping lanes
    Total value: $5.2T
  • Adjacent Assets: Productive coastline, carbon absorption
    Total value: $7.8T, and $4.3T respectively
    Examples of services enabled: Tourism, education/conservation (such as jobs created)

In fact, the annual gross marine product of the oceans is comparable to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of countries, coming in at $2.5 trillion per year—making it the world’s eighth largest economy in country terms.

Unfortunately, experts warn that various human activities are endangering these ocean assets and their reliant ecosystems.

The Cumulative Human Impact on Oceans

An 11-year long scientific study tracked the global effect of multiple human activities across diverse marine environments. The researchers identified four main categories of stressors between 2003-2013.

  1. Climate change: Sea surface temperature, ocean acidification, and sea level rise
  2. Ocean: Shipping
  3. Land-based: Nutrient pollution, organic chemical pollution, direct human pollution, light pollution
  4. Fishing: Commercial and artisanal fishing, including trawling methods

Across the board, climate stressors were the most dominant drivers of change in a majority of marine environments. Similarly, pollution levels have also increased for many ecosystems.

Plastic pollution is especially damaging, as it continues to grow at unprecedented rates, with a significant amount ending up in the oceans. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight.

Among the various marine environments, coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves proved to be most at-risk, experiencing the fastest increase in cumulative human impact. However, these are also the same ecosystems that we rely on for their direct economic output.

Overall, climate-induced declines in ocean health could cost the global economy $428 billion annually by 2050.

The Ocean Economy is in Hot Water

It can be difficult to truly understand the scale at which we rely on the ocean for climate regulation. The ocean is a major “carbon sink”, absorbing nearly 30% of the carbon emitted by human activity. But acidity levels and rising sea surface temperatures are changing its chemistry, and reducing its ability to dissolve CO₂.

According to the UN, ocean acidification has grown by 26% since pre-industrial times. At our current rates, it could rise to 100-150% by the end of the century. Overfishing is another urgent threat that shows no signs of slowing down, with sustainable fish stocks declining from 90% to 66.9% in just over 40 years.

To try and counteract these issues, this year’s virtual World Oceans Day is focused on “Innovation for a Sustainable Oceans” to discuss various solutions, including how the private sector can work with communities to maintain the blue economy. In addition, there’s a petition in place to urge world leaders to help protect 30% of the natural world by 2030.

Will our human activities continue to stress the ocean economy, or will we be able to positively reverse these trends in the years to come?

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Energy

Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts

This infographic takes a look at what China’s energy transition plans are to make its energy mix carbon neutral by 2060.

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China Energy Mix

Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts

In September 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping announced the steps his nation would take to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 via videolink before the United Nations Assembly in New York.

This infographic takes a look at what this ambitious plan for China’s energy would look like and what efforts are underway towards this goal.

China’s Ambitious Plan

A carbon-neutral China requires changing the entire economy over the next 40 years, a change the IEA compares to the ambition of the reforms that industrialized the country’s economy in the first place.

China is the world’s largest consumer of electricity, well ahead of the second place consumer, the United States. Currently, 80% of China’s energy comes from fossil fuels, but this plan envisions only 14% coming from coal, oil, and natural gas in 2060.

Energy Source20252060% Change
Coal52%3%-94%
Oil18%8%-56%
Natural Gas10%3%-70%
Wind4%24%+500%
Nuclear3%19%+533%
Biomass2%5%+150%
Solar3%23%+667%
Hydro8%15%+88%

Source: Tsinghua University Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy; U.S. EIA

According to the Carbon Brief, China’s 14th five-year plan appears to enshrine Xi’s goal. This plan outlines a general and non specific list of projects for a new energy system. It includes the construction of eight large-scale clean energy centers, coastal nuclear power, electricity transmission routes, power system flexibility, oil-and-gas transportation, and storage capacity.

Progress Towards Renewables?

While the goal seems far off in the future, China is on a trajectory towards reducing the carbon emissions of its electricity grid with declining coal usage, increased nuclear, and increased solar power capacity.

According to ChinaPower, coal fueled the rise of China with the country using 144 million tonnes of oil equivalent “Mtoe” in 1965, peaking at 1,969 Mtoe in 2013. However, its share as part of the country’s total energy mix has been declining since the 1990s from ~77% to just under ~60%.

Another trend in China’s energy transition will be the greater consumption of energy as electricity. As China urbanized, its cities expanded creating greater demand for electricity in homes, businesses, and everyday life. This trend is set to continue and approach 40% of total energy consumed by 2030 up from ~5% in 1990.

Under the new plan, by 2060, China is set to have 42% of its energy coming from solar and nuclear while in 2025 it is only expected to be 6%. China has been adding nuclear and solar capacity and expects to add the equivalent of 20 new reactors by 2025 and enough solar power for 33 million homes (110GW).

Changing the energy mix away from fossil fuels, while ushering in a new economic model is no small task.

Up to the Task?

China is the world’s factory and has relatively young industrial infrastructure with fleets of coal plants, steel mills, and cement factories with plenty of life left.

However, China also is the biggest investor in low-carbon energy sources, has access to massive technological talent, and holds a strong central government to guide the transition.

The direction China takes will have the greatest impact on the health of the planet and provide guidance for other countries looking to change their energy mixes, for better or for worse.

The world is watching…even if it’s by videolink.

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Energy

Visualizing 50+ Years of the G20’s Energy Mix

Watch how the energy mix of G20 countries has evolved over the last 50+ years.

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G20 Energy Mix share

Visualizing 50+ Years of the G20’s Energy Mix (1965–2019)

Over the last 50 years, the energy mix of G20 countries has changed drastically in some ways.

With many countries and regions pledging to move away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner sources of energy, the overall energy mix is becoming more diversified. But shutting down plants and replacing them with new sources takes time, and most countries are still incredibly reliant on fossil fuels.

This video from James Eagle uses data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy to examine how the energy mix of G20 members has changed from 1965 to 2019.

G20’s Energy History: Fossil Fuel Dependence (1965–1999)

At first, there was oil and coal.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, energy consumption in the G20 countries relied almost entirely on these two fossil fuels. They were the cheapest and most efficient sources of energy for most, though some countries also used a lot of natural gas, like the United States, Mexico, and Russia.

Country (Energy Mix - 1965)OilCoalOther
🇦🇷 Argentina83%3%14%
🇦🇺 Australia45%50%5%
🇧🇷 Brazil66%8%26%
🇨🇦 Canada47%13%40%
🇨🇳 China8%87%5%
🇪🇺 EU47%45%8%
🇫🇷 France49%37%14%
🇩🇪 Germany34%63%3%
🇮🇳 India24%67%9%
🇮🇩 Indonesia86%2%12%
🇮🇹 Italy66%11%23%
🇯🇵 Japan56%31%13%
🇲🇽 Mexico61%3%36%
🇷🇺 Russia29%50%21%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia98%0%2%
🇿🇦 South Africa19%81%0%
🇰🇷 South Korea20%77%3%
🇹🇷 Turkey46%47%7%
🇬🇧 UK38%59%3%
🇺🇸 U.S.45%22%33%

But the use of oil for energy started to decrease, beginning most notably in the 1980s. Rocketing oil prices forced many utilities to turn to coal and natural gas (which were becoming cheaper), while others in countries like France, Japan, and the U.S. embraced the rise of nuclear power.

This is most notable in countries with high historic oil consumption, like Argentina and Indonesia. In 1965, these three countries relied on oil for more than 83% of energy, but by 1999, oil made up just 55% of Indonesia’s energy mix and 36% of Argentina’s.

Even Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, began to utilize oil less. By 1999, oil was used for 65% of energy in the country, down from a 1965 high of 97%.

G20’s Energy Mix: Gas and Renewables Climb (2000–2019)

The conversation around energy changed in the 21st century. Before, countries were focused primarily on efficiency and cost, but very quickly, they had to start contending with emissions.

Climate change was already on everyone’s radar. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992, and the resulting Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions was signed in 1997.

But when the Kyoto Protocol went into effect in 2005, countries had very different options available to them. Some started to lean more heavily on hydroelectricity, though countries that already utilized them like Canada and Brazil had to look elsewhere. Others turned to nuclear power, but the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan turned many away.

This is the period of time that renewables started to pick up steam, primarily in the form of wind power at first. By 2019, the G20 members that relied on renewables the most were Brazil (16%), Germany (16%), and the UK (14%).

Country (Energy Mix - 2019)Natural GasNuclearHydroelectricRenewablesOther
🇦🇷 Argentina49%2%10%4%35%
🇦🇺 Australia30%0%2%7%61%
🇧🇷 Brazil10%1%29%16%44%
🇨🇦 Canada31%6%24%4%35%
🇨🇳 China8%2%8%5%77%
🇪🇺 EU22%11%4%10%53%
🇫🇷 France16%37%5%6%36%
🇩🇪 Germany24%5%1%16%54%
🇮🇳 India6%1%4%4%85%
🇮🇩 Indonesia18%0%2%4%76%
🇮🇹 Italy40%0%6%10%44%
🇯🇵 Japan21%3%4%6%66%
🇲🇽 Mexico42%1%3%5%49%
🇷🇺 Russia54%6%6%0%34%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia37%0%0%0%63%
🇿🇦 South Africa3%2%0%2%93%
🇰🇷 South Korea16%11%0%2%71%
🇹🇷 Turkey24%0%12%6%58%
🇬🇧 UK36%6%1%14%43%
🇺🇸 U.S.32%8%3%6%51%

However, the need to reduce emissions quickly made many countries make a simpler switch: cut back on oil and coal and utilize more natural gas. Bituminous coal, one of the most commonly used in steam-electric power stations, emits 76% more CO₂ than natural gas. Diesel fuel and heating oil used in oil power plants emit 38% more CO₂ than natural gas.

As countries begin to push more strongly towards a carbon-neutral future, the energy mix of the 2020s and onward will continue to change.

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