News Release

Scientists propose ten key components to foster climate-smart marine spatial planning globally

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon

Climate-smart marine spatial planning


Ten key elements of climate-smart marine spatial planning.

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Credit: Julie Reimer

New study identifies ten key components that will promote the development and implementation of sustainable, equitable, climate-smart ocean planning initiatives around the globe.

In a paper published March 12 in npj Ocean Sustainability, the researchers outlined guidelines to support marine managers and planners on how to develop climate-smart ocean plans and put them into action. Led by Catarina Frazão Santos, researcher and professor at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon (Ciências ULisboa) and honorary research associate at the University of Oxford, the team included scientists and practitioners from both academia and international organizations, from Portugal, United States, Australia, Italy, Canada, Chile, South Africa, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.

The guidelines come at a critical time as UNESCO and the European Commission jointly launched a global marine spatial planning roadmap identifying climate-smart marine spatial planning as a key priority area for 2022–2027 – a need also highlighted by several other institutions, like the World Bank or the United Nations Global Compact. However, at a practical level, decision-makers and practitioners greatly need guidance on how to act.

“While marine spatial planning is being developed in over 75 countries all around the globe, to date no ocean plan has integrated climate change comprehensively,” says Catarina Frazão Santos. “With this Perspective, we aim to address this challenge and provide solutions to moving forward. The components are also intended to provide a checklist to support the assessment and monitoring of the level of ‘climate-smartness’ of existing and future marine spatial planning initiatives”, adds Catarina Frazão Santos.

Operational pathways and foundational principles

The proposed ten key components include foundational principles - underpinning the entire planning process-  and operational pathways - practical channels to action. All are deeply interrelated and believed to function best as a coherent whole. However, the authors recognize that as components are context-dependent – that is, influenced by social, economic, political, and environmental factors -, in some cases some will be more prevalent than others.

Proposed operational pathways to developing climate-smart marine spatial planning ranged from integrating climate-related knowledge, to developing proactive future-looking plans, promoting adaptive and flexible planning, balancing flexibility with legal certainty, identifying ocean-based climate solutions, and building common narratives together with policymakers, the private sector, civil society, and other integrated ocean management stakeholders, to change perceptions of ocean sustainability and climate change.

At the same time, the authors advocate that several foundational principles are needed to unlock and support action. These relate to prioritizing ecosystem health as the primary strategy for marine spatial planning decision-making, understanding system interactions and dynamics to promote an integrated and systems view for ocean planning, reinforcing the importance of social knowledge, equity and change in co-developing sustainable ocean plans, and aligning marine spatial planning and climate policies to support the integration of climate change into marine spatial planning and ensure effective coordination among different policy arenas.

“We aim to foster further debate and advance a highly relevant topic for the future of our ocean,” says Catarina Frazão Santos, and adds:“The piece also comes at an important time as the marine spatial planning global initiative, by UNESCO and the European Commission, is expected to develop a guide on climate-smart marine spatial planning by late 2024.”

Quotes from co-authors:

“Climate is a game changer for marine planning, management and conservation. It moves the bar further away, making it more challenging to achieve ocean sustainability. This paper provides ten principles to set the course for a climate-smart approach to marine spatial planning.” Nathan Bennett, Global Oceans Lead Scientist, WWF & Chair of the People and the Ocean Specialist Group, IUCN

“Marine spatial planning is already complex in practice, and climate change only exacerbates these complexities. With this paper we have articulated real actions for ocean planners and managers to put into practice at a time when marine spatial planning cannot afford to be anything other than climate-smart!” Julie Reimer, Senior Policy Advisor, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

“Diving into climate-smart marine spatial planning is an important route to support climate justice and bring all coastal and ocean players into the process, ready to tackle the repercussions of climate change head-on. This paper brings concepts and down-to-earth steps to the table, helping countries and regions improve their planning and decision-making by putting climate at the heart of the action.” Marinez Scherer, Integrated Coastal Zona Management Coordinator, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Brazil

“Operationalizing climate-smart ocean planning is a challenge we are all facing. As a scientist supporting a National Maritime Spatial Planning Process, I believe that the ten key components will help planners, practitioners, and scientists to work together for tailoring climate-smart marine spatial planning solutions for the benefit of communities and ecosystems.” Elena Gissi, Senior Scientist, National Research Council, Institute of Marine Sciences, Italy

“Marine spatial planning has been rapidly adopted as a new way of managing our seas. However, many marine spatial planning initiatives have not addressed the issue of climate change. These ten components provide a framework through which we can develop urgently needed climate-smart marine spatial planning in a forward-looking and equitable manner.” Wesley Flannery, Reader in Environmental Planning, Queen’s University Belfast, United Kingdom

“As countries face the enormous challenge of making good on their international commitments — including reaching UN Sustainable Development Goals, attaining targets under the Global Biodiversity Framework and the UNFCCC, and finding ways to safeguard the distant ocean in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction — best practice guidance is badly needed. We highlight the basic principles forming the bedrock for action, and operational pathways to guide that action, to catalyse climate-smart marine planning across the globe.” Tundi Agardy, Sound Seas, United States

 “Mainstreaming climate change into marine spatial planning presents great challenges, such as the uncertainty associated with climate projections and the complexity of considering impacts across different sectors. However, this integration also offers opportunities to promote the resilience of coastal communities, protect vulnerable ecosystems, and foster innovation in the sustainable use of marine resources by designing more realistic scenarios. Climate proofing marine spatial planning must go beyond the stage of generalist proposals and start launching effective good practices that can be tailored into each specific framework.” Helena Calado, University of the Azores, School of Science and Technology, Portugal

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