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it comes to environmental protection (marine or otherwise) is that it is too expensive, but how much can it cost not to practice it? So, if last week we talked about the b>value of the ocean, today we see how much it can cost not properly protect it.

Before starting, I remind you that you can find a list of the articles in this series, constantly updated and ordered according to thematic categories, by visiting this index.

Two projections showing the increase in cost and of people affected by coastal floods

The Cost of Climate Change

The European report analyzes only two main factors which, however, are the most important with regard to the marine environment. The first factor is climate change or, more specifically, its direct consequence: coastal flooding. The study is, in any case, incomplete as it takes into account only direct damages. It does not therefore include all those potential consequences such as: ocean acidification, impact on the ecosystem, saltwater intrusion, etc... On balance, the values ​​resulting from this study are much lower than the actual ones, but they already allow us to understand how much the climatic change can cost at an economic level.

The tables above this paragraph show the results of the study, both in terms of billions consumed and in terms of thousands of people affected. Let's see how to read the data on the table. The most difficult to interpret is undoubtedly the three scenarios considered. The acronym RCP (Representative Concentration Pathway) refers to two different trajectories of growth of the greenhouse effect where RCP4.5 is the scenario where this is limited while RCP8.5 is the scenario where this continues to grow as now. To be applied in a study, these trajectories are usually combined with the SSP (Shared Socio-economic Pathways), or the socio-economic scenarios that take into consideration how much mitigation and adaptation to environmental problems are treated (you can find more information in this pdf). The individual columns are fairly self-explanatory except probably that of the 2°C. This is a value that Europe has set as a limit for the temperature of the oceans, a kind of point of no return given the consequences that this temperature would have on raising the seas. It has always been considered very arbitrary and has recently been lowered to 1.5°C, but the sense of the study does not change.

Apparently the scenario RCP8.5-SSP3 seems the most advantageous one, but the 2°C column completely changes its interpretation. This value is in fact reached clearly first in this scenario (around 2043) compared to the scenario RCP4.5-SSP1 (around 2057). The consequences for the oceans and for life on earth would be devastating in the long term. This can also be seen by making a simple report of how the values ​​of the various scenarios increase from year to year. From 2080 to 2100, the cost in billions of the RCP4.5-SSP1 scenario increases by 92.7% while that of the RCP8.5-SSP3 scenario is 105.1%. The increase of the first decelerates over time while the second accelerates and, consequently, at some point in the future the second will be enormously higher.

The Sand Engine photographed from above

The Sand Engine

The weight of the damage caused by coastal flooding therefore pushes European companies to invest in adaptation and mitigation measures since their long-term benefits will always be higher than their cost. However it must always be kept in mind that, even in the most optimistic scenario, the level of the oceans will continue to rise for a long time due to the behavior of the past. This optimistic result must be a first step in the hope that, in future studies of this type, we will reach a point where the projections give a positive result.

Before moving on to the next factor considered in the European report, that is plastic pollution, let's stop for a moment to spend a few words on one of the most innovative coastal defense methods developed just to protect dunes, beaches, coastal areas and even whole islands: the sand engine. This was implemented by the Netherlands in 2011 (moreover, a large part of their territory is located below sea level), but it seems to have achieved remarkable results since, in 2017, it was announced that a second one will be realized in the United Kingdom, in Norfolk.

In practice it is an artificial sand peninsula made so that it is nature itself that disperses the sand along the coast instead of taking it away. Previously, in fact, the Netherlands government was obliged to take sand from inland rivers to counteract coastal erosion. The sand engine, instead, allow them to protect the coast in a more sustainable and natural way, working with the ocean rather than against it. The entire life cycle of this artificial peninsula should cover about 20 years.

An estimate of the economic impact of marine pollution in Europe

The Cost of the Pollution

Plastic undoubtedly has an important role in the economy as it is a very economical material given the very low production costs. However plastic has a big problem: its value is completely lost after use and therefore does not remain within the economy itself. So the plastic soon becomes garbage and, as such, has an enormous cost that far exceeds the advantages of its production (and this without taking into account its impact on the environment and on climate change).

Unfortunately, accurately estimating the consequences of marine pollution on the economy is extremely difficult given the lack of reliable and verified data. Some recent studies (including the one that generated the table above) have tried to give a value to the damages that pollution causes to various maritime sectors such as: fishing (loss of resources), aquaculture (loss of resources), shipping (repair of damages), tourism (loss of resources and jobs) and government (various costs for waste management and cleaning). These studies, however, do not take into account many important factors, from damage to the environment, public health and the economy that could be caused by incorrect waste treatments to the economic costs associated with ecosystem degradation, reduction of food production, increase in health problems and the influence on global warming. The true extension of the role of marine litter in the economy is still to be properly quantified.

Fortunately the European government has not waited for safer studies to begin to intervene on this problem. Most of the solutions applied to reduce marine litter and its impact can be divided into two macro-groups: (1) command and control measures which serve to regulate the production of unwanted items (an example is just the recent microplastic ban) and (2) market-based economic instruments, that is financial incentives and disincentives aimed at influencing human behavior. In past articles of this series we have seen many examples of both of these practices.

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