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Value of oceans amounts to US$222 billion annually in CO2 capture: NGO report

BONN, Germany -- By absorbing carbon emissions from the atmosphere, the seas avert climate damage worth up to US$222 billion (163 billion euros) every year, according to an estimate released on Thursday.

Fish catches are worth another US$16 billion annually, according to the report by a non-governmental watchdog, the Global Ocean Commission, which hopes that by setting an economic price on the value of international waters, the bounty will be better managed.

The study, coinciding with World Environment Day, was released ahead of two days of ministerial-level talks in Bonn that will seek to remove roadblocks toward a new post-2020 U.N. climate agreement.

The ocean naturally takes in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) though microscopic marine organisms at the surface, which convert the gas to carbon.

The process prevents the gas from adding to global warming although it is also making the seas more acidic, which will have an impact on many ecosystems.

“While the science of carbon sequestration in the high seas is still evolving, we estimate that nearly half a billion tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of over 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, are captured and stored by high-seas ecosystems annually,” the report said.

“Based on current estimates of the economic cost of additional carbon in the atmosphere ... we find that the value of carbon storage by high-seas ecosystems ranges between US$74 billion and US$222 billion annually.”

The report said nearly 10 million tonnes of fish are caught annually on high seas, translating into more than US$16 billion in landed value.

It pointed to a hotchpotch of international laws and regulations governing the oceans, many of which were poorly enforced, or not at all. This encouraged pollution, waste and over-fishing.

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