Hilary Benn, Environment Secretary, UK Government, has issued a warning at the Copenhagen climate conference that ocean acidification could cause food shortages for more than one billion people.
According to a report in the Telegraph, Benn said that as the world struggles to reach an agreement on global warming, pollution is having a particularly damaging effect on the two thirds of the world covered by oceans.
He explained that carbon dioxide is being absorbed at a faster rate than at any time in the previous 21 million years, causing ocean acidification. he process dissolves the shells and skeletons of key marine life and is in danger of destroying whole ecosystems.
"Why should we worry about this?" he asked.
"Because there is marine life that is affected by that change. In particular animals and plants that have a calcium carbonate skeleton and that other marine life feed on. When you think that one billion people depend on fish as their principle source of protein, this is something we should worry about," he said.
Benn's comments follow a UN report that warned ocean acidification is an "underwater time bomb", which cannot be reversed in less than tens of thousands of years.
It is predicted 70 per cent of cold water corals could be exposed to corrosive water by 2100.
The report was released at the Copenhagen climate summit in order to put pressure on world leaders to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being released by cars and factories as part of a new deal on global warming.
The oceans provide half of the world's natural resources, including food, and absorb a quarter of annual carbon dioxide emissions.
Benn warned that Britain would be particularly badly affected if acidification continues to take places at current rates.