A new International Monetary Fund (IMF) paper values the role of whales in carbon sequestration and healthy ocean functioning at over $1 trillion

  • Coordinating the economics of whale protection must rise to the top of the global community’s climate agenda.
  • Whales play an “irreplaceable role” in mitigating and building resilience to climate change.
  • Altering shipping lanes to reduce heavy mortality from ship strikes a key priority in urgently needed protections.

Washington, September 16, 2019: A team of economists from the International Monetary Fund and academia, working with input from the Great Whale Conservancy, has for the first time put a value on the role of whales in helping fight climate change, based on their contribution to carbon sequestration and healthy ocean life. A Paper published today in the IMF’s Finance and Development (F&D) journal, to which GWC contributed, argues that whales’ role in carbon capture, increased fish stocks, and to economic benefit through tourism means they contribute the equivalent of $2 million each to global ecosystem services. This means that the estimated current stock of whales could be valued at well over $1 trillion US dollars.

“Nature’s Solution to Climate Change: How a strategy to protect whales can limit greenhouse gases and global warming”, co-authored by IMF Assistant Director Ralph Chami, asserts for the first time that the value of the functions performed by whales within the ocean/ Earth system – which have only been clearly understood by scientists relatively recently – should be factored in to assessments of the cost of protecting them. Read the paper here:

http://https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2019/12/natures-solution-to-climate-change-chami.htm

The F&D Paper cites recent marine scientific evidence that whales—especially such as the blue, right and humpback —play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. When whales die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean, each one sequestering 33 tons of CO2 on average, taking that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. In contrast, a tree absorbs up to 48 pounds or 22 kgs. of CO2 per year

Scientific research is also showing that whales have a “multiplier effect” of increasing phytoplankton production, as whale faeces contain the minerals needed for the growth of phytoplankton. Whales bring minerals up to the ocean surface through their vertical movement, called the “whale pump,” and also through their migration across oceans, called the “whale conveyor belt.” Preliminary modelling and estimates indicate that this “fertilizing” activity of whales adds significantly to phytoplankton growth in the areas that whales frequent. The ocean’s phytoplankton is responsible for approximately 50% of all oxygen produced.

Leading whale conservationist and contributor to the paper’s development, GWC’s Director Michael Fischbach, says: “Industrial whaling largely ceased since an international moratorium came in to force in the 1980s, however, the biomass of whales is still estimated to be less than 25% of pre-whaling levels. The IMF paper makes clear that restoring populations of great whales is a significant means of boosting the carbon sequestration potential of the ocean, as well as boosting the health of the ocean and its ability to produce oxygen. Saving whales helps save the planet – it’s as simple as that.”

Data has indicated that populations of several of the most iconic great whale species, including the Blue and the Right whale, are failing to recover as had been expected even almost 40 years after commercial whaling was largely banned globally, with human impacts on the ocean to blame. Conservationists are arguing for much more stringent measures to protect their breeding and feeding grounds to help them bounce back.

The Blue Whale is estimated to have reduced in population by up to 98% since pre-whaling times, with right whales, humpbacks and sperm whales all suffering losses of between just under 70% and 99% in some ocean regions compared with pre-whaling estimates. The causes of death include entanglements, noise pollution, and plastics in the oceans. But strikes by giant cargo ships due to the explosion in container shipping in the past half century are now thought to be a major cause of whale mortality.

“Ship strikes are currently a leading cause of death for large whales. We estimate that well over 100 blue, humpback, and fin whales are killed by vessel collisions on the West Coast of the United States and Canada each year. As global maritime traffic continues to increase, it is critical that we implement solutions to this problem now. The most effective is to adjust shipping routes in and out of major ports as has been shown by the example of Panama.  The GWC is working with businesses and governments to advance this.” Michael Fishbach

“This paper reframes how we value nature and our place in it. For the first time, it puts an economic price on the great whales’ contribution to maintaining a liveable planet. In short, enhancing our protection of whales from man-made dangers delivers benefits to ourselves, the planet, and of course, the whales themselves. Coordinating the economics of whale protection must rise to the top of the global community’s climate agenda. Whales play an irreplaceable role in mitigating and building resilience to climate change, their survival should be integrated into the objectives of all signatories to the UN Paris climate treaty. We hope this work contributes to urgently needed debate on the value of efforts to conserve and enhance populations around the globe.” Ralph Chami

The F&D Article is now being developed into a technical paper for peer review  and is expected to appear in the first half of 2020.

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Finance & Development, the IMF’s flagship magazine and online editorial platform, publishes cutting-edge analysis and insight on the latest trends and research in international finance, economics, and development.

About the Great Whale Conservancy: GWC was established in 2010 to support protection for great whales and their habitats. GWC focuses largely on the problem of ship strikes, working directly with key industry stakeholders, politicians, and whale biologists worldwide. GWC also focuses on bringing the plight of whales, and now also the importance of whales to our climate, to the public and to the world of business and finance. www.greatwhaleconservancy.com