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A “Green New Deal” for the oceans must prioritize social justice beyond infrastructure

A trio of researchers from the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at UW EarthLab– Andrés M. Cisneros‐Montemayor, Katherine M. Crosman, and Yoshitaka Ota–  published a commentary in Conservation Letters calling for equity and justice measures to be prioritized in ocean sustainability, as called for in the Green New Deal (GND) proposal to the U.S. Congress.

A green new deal for the oceans must prioritize social justice beyond infrastructure” adds to a recently published peer-reviewed article which declares that oceans are largely absent or separate from the policy proposals listed in the GND. The timely paper published by Dundas et al. (2020) argues the importance of extending the values and proposed strategies of the GND to the oceans, including investing in infrastructure, renewable energy, food security, and habitat restoration.

Cisneros‐Montemayor et al. (2020) agree that “future sustainable and equitable development of oceans relies on acknowledging climate change, anticipating future challenges, and proactively transforming the U.S. economy.” However, while the Green New Deal does call on the federal government to make these specific investments to mitigate climate change, at the heart of the proposal is the social justice movement to combat the economic inequality and racial injustice that typically afflict environmental policies. It was this part of the puzzle that was missing from the original argument made by Dundas et al.

“There’s a lot of evidence  that shows that many coastal communities, including artisanal fisherfolk and Indigenous peoples, historically and currently experience inequities even when policies are intended to bring positive change,” said Cisneros‐Montemayor, Ocean Nexus Deputy Director. “This is often due to the fact that their needs are not specifically considered as part of the equation. If we are serious about supporting well-being and sustainability, we have to recognize these complex political dynamics and focus more on protecting the people who depend on the oceans.”

Protecting the people who rely on oceans is the driving force behind the Ocean Nexus Center. A large part of their work is dedicated to revealing the inequities in the system and then co-creating transformation that directly benefits those impacted by unjust ocean management and development.

“We agree that oceans are a critical part of a Green New Deal. Communities and industries both in the U.S. and around the world rely directly on healthy oceans and oceans are critical components of climate systems,” said Kate Crosman, Ocean Nexus Principal Research Scientist. “However, to be consistent with the spirit of the Green New Deal, we must acknowledge and address the existing and future inequities that are associated with marine and coastal development and management. Simply, ocean governance must fundamentally change to center equity and justice.”

Read the full correspondence paper here.

Learn more about the new Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at UW EarthLab here.