How the world’s largest seafood companies can help tackle climate change

Seafood firms can reduce their impact on climate and the oceans - and in doing so can ensure they have a long-term thriving business that delivers healthy and sustainable seafood to millions, writes Nigel Topping, UN High Level Champion for Climate Action at COP26 By Nigel Topping, UN High Level Champion for Climate Action at COP26 | April 12, 2022

Seafood is big business and demand is going up. By 2027, the global market for seafood is projected to reach $199bn – up from $159bn in 2019.

It’s easy to see why – a growing number of consumers want access to protein-rich, enjoyable, healthy food. Fish accounts for about 17 per cent of the global population’s intake of animal proteins, but this share can be 50 per cent or higher in some developing countries – meaning it has a vital role in sustaining a healthy global population.

Covering 71 per cent of our planet’s surface, oceans are both vital to sustaining human and natural life on Earth and a key part of tackling the dual crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss. But the health of our oceans, and the industries reliant on them, are under serious threat.

The world’s largest seafood companies can play a vital role in reversing this and have a responsibility to act.

Tackling emissions

Firstly, seafood companies are critical to the global efforts to tackle climate change by targeting emission reductions right through their value chain.

There is an added incentive for seafood companies to act because climate change represents a clear risk to their long-term business. Increased ocean warming, caused by climate change, leads to changes in marine ecosystem patterns which impacts ocean biodiversity, species richness and distribution – including fish stocks.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found, with high confidence, that ocean warming and acidification have already reduced seafood production in many of the world’s oceans. These impacts are only expected to get worse with global warming reaching 1.5°C and beyond.

The best starting point for seafood companies is to commit to setting a 1.5C aligned science-based emission reduction target (SBTs). SBTs provide clearly-defined, near-term and long-term routes to reduce emissions in line with science. They can help businesses get ahead of incoming regulations, the consumer shift towards lower impact food and an investor shift away from companies without clear targets and transition plans.

A new report launched this week – Setting Science Based Targets in the Seafood Sector: Best Practices to Date – brings together effective approaches, common challenges and experiences from the seafood sector to support companies on this journey.

A number of seafood companies have already signed up, with operations across both fisheries and aquaculture – which covers wild-caught fishing and farmed fish. Companies including Lerøy Seafood Group and Grieg Seafood, are looking at decarbonisation routes such as cutting emissions from the feed used for farmed fish, powering their fleets with alternatives to diesel and switching to renewable electricity for refrigeration.

I am calling on all seafood companies to set a 1.5°C-aligned science-based emissions reduction target and join the Race to Zero, collaborate with peers, share solutions, and to take a leading role in this urgent transition. By 2023, the High-Level Climate Champions is targeting 20 per cent of fisheries and aquaculture companies by revenue to have join the UN-led Race to Zero, by committing to set a science-based target.

Responsible fishing

The role of seafood companies cannot stop with reducing emissions. In fact, seafood companies have a unique and vital role as stewards of our shared oceans and a growing responsibility to ensure they are adopting sustainable fishing practices.

Future scenarios for global population growth and climate change project fish protein shortages across many regions. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 90 per cent of the world’s fisheries are harvested right up to or beyond their ecological limits – threatening collapse. This could cause acute impacts for food security and the livelihoods of millions around the globe.

What’s more, overfishing threatens to turn the world’s largest carbon sink into a net emitter of carbon.

The business case for adopting sustainable fishing practices, along with setting a science-based target, has never been stronger. Companies that rely on land and sea-life for their products are being forced to confront growing near-term threats to their supply of natural resources – and, therefore, their operational resilience.

There are trillions of dollars of economic value at stake and nature impacts, including those related to the ocean, are fast becoming an investment risk. Ratings agency Moody’s sees nature loss as the next frontier in risk management while the G7 finance ministers are signalling that companies will soon be required to disclose their nature-related financial risks.

The industry has a critical window to illustrate ocean stewardship in protecting our largest common good and slowing humanity’s approach to critical tipping points, whilst contributing to combatting both the climate and nature crises.

Companies can begin this journey with several key steps:

  • Assess and understand the company’s material impacts and risk exposure
  • Identify and manage potential and future supply chain risks through an extended enterprise approach
  • Strengthen internal governance mechanisms and embed ESG into strategic planning
  • Increase transparency and disclosure
  • Redesign and innovate product portfolio and transition to business models aligned with a thriving circular bioeconomy
  • Join industry wide initiatives to drive increased sustainable, legal, traceable sourcing
  • Share and amplify good practice and tools widely and publicly

For more information, seafood companies can engage with the Seafood Task Force and the Science Based Targets Network, both of which have a range or resources for companies on ocean stewardship.

The dual crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss requires unprecedented and urgent action. Nowhere is this dual challenge more apparent than the seafood industry.

Seafood companies can not only contribute to the growing need to tackle climate change and protect our ocean habitat from biodiversity loss, but also ensure they have a long-term thriving business that delivers healthy and sustainable seafood to millions.

Nigel Topping is UN High Level Champion for Climate Action at COP26.

This article was first published by Business Green.