Susan Ruffo wants to change the conversation around saving the world’s oceans. “Really, we should talk about how the oceans are saving us,” the UN Foundation’s Senior Advisor for Ocean and Climate said recently during a TED talk on achieving net-zero.

From producing half of the planet’s oxygen to providing food for billions of people, oceans are vital for our survival. This is also true when it comes to fighting climate change. “The oceans can essentially save us from ourselves,” Susan says.

Susan served as a delegate and speaker at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, which brought together world leaders, CEOs, scientists, and activists to discuss curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Building a net-zero future — which refers to balancing overall emissions by offsetting or removing carbon from the atmosphere via nature, new technology, or new industrial practices — is the most urgent challenge of our time.

From Susan’s perspective, the world’s oceans hold many of the answers as to how we’re going to get there.

I want to talk about the link between our oceans and food. Similar to shipping, I think it’s easy to overlook how integral the oceans are to sustaining the global food chain.

Yes, there are basically 3 billion people in the world who get a significant portion of their protein from the ocean. And a lot of those people live in very vulnerable countries as small-scale fishers. So when we think about the food crisis and how we feed the future amid climate change, if we don’t think about the ocean, then we’re missing out not only on a lot of people, but a lot of very vulnerable people.

And the food security impact of climate change could be really devastating when you start to think about people migrating and competing for resources. So protecting the ocean — and the ocean as a source of food in particular — is really important.

Some of the work that’s been launched at COP — like the AIM for Climate partnership, which the UN Foundation has been a part of — is really looking at agricultural innovation and climate-smart food production. I think when we’re thinking about that, we also have to think about how the two intersect: How does food production on land also impact the ocean? Because anything you put on land will eventually flow down our rivers and streams and into the ocean. So how do we innovate the ways we’re fertilizing land, but not in a way that’s going to impact these small scale-fishers along the coast of these vulnerable countries? There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done in thinking about these things holistically.

Read the full interview with Susan Ruffo about climate change and oceans by M.J. Altman at United Nations Foundation.