Climate Change Poses a Threat to Our Oceans


Ocean Literacy Admin

19 Feb 2020

In 2015, when the ocean was integrated in the Preamble of the Paris Agreement, it was the first fundamental step recognizing the ocean as an essential component of the climate system. In the last four years, the launch of the Global Climate Action Agenda (GCA) at COP22 (Marrakech), the release of the IPCC Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere (SROCC, September 2019) and, most recently, the emergence of the concept of a “Blue COP” are all developments that have enabled the ocean to gain momentum in the climate fora.

What was at stake at COP25?

The 25th edition of the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP25, needed Parties to the Paris Agreement to agree on three fundamental issues. Firstly, Parties were to find a consensus regarding implementing rules of the Article 6, related to the establishment of an inter-State carbon emission trading system enabling Parties to meet their greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. The second issue was the struggling question of Loss and Damage, officially recognized as a pillar of the climate action by the Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, but for which no concrete course of action, including financial mechanism, had so far been identified. Lastly, the third challenge was to define the future of the GCA, which aims to support States’ commitments by giving a central and official role to non-State actors and the solutions they bring to the table.

Furthermore, as announced by the Chilean presidency, this COP25 was to be a “Blue COP” – hence generating high expectations from the ocean community, with the promise of a special focus on the ocean and its ecosystems within the negotiations. With over a hundred ocean-related side-events and dialogues organized during the two weeks, including Presidency-led events, this Blue COP has lived up to its expectations. In spite of complex negotiations due to the large number of actors involved and their divergent interests, the ocean has managed to pull through thanks to the strong mobilization of civil society as well as the political leadership of some member States including Chile, Monaco, Costa Rica and large ocean States such as Fiji.

The Ocean and Climate Platform fully mobilised for the climate negotiations

On the opening day of the “Blue COP”, the Ocean and Climate Platform organized a high-level event, at the French Pavilion, to introduce its latest policy recommendations for “a healthy ocean, a protected climate” , in the presence of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and the Secretary of State to the French Minister for Ecological and Inclusive Transition, H.E.  Brune Poirson. With the presentations of Valérie Masson-Delmotte (co-chair of IPCC Working Group I), Anna Zivian (research director at the Ocean Conservancy), Rémy Rioux (Chief Executive Officer of the Agence Française de Développement) and Raphaël Cuvelier (Senior Advisor at the Foundation Prince Albert II of Monaco), this event highlighted the importance of the interactions between the ocean, climate and biodiversity and provided an overview of the global scientific, political and development-related issues. A detailed report of the event covered by IISD Reporting Services is available here.

On 4 December, the Platform further presented  its policy recommendations during a second event entitled “Moving from science to action : ocean-climate policy recommendations” at the EU Pavilion. Moderated by Joachim Claudet (CNRS, President of the Platform’s Scientific Committee), this conference was opened by H.E. Gonzalo Muñoz Abogabir, Climate Champion appointed by the Chilean Presidency.

We need to give the ocean a break and let him restore to allow him to play his critical role in regulating the climate system. (…) Learning how to restore and interact properly with the ocean is crucial, because affecting the ocean is affecting ourselves”

Gonzalo Muñoz Abogabir

A distinguished panel of high-level scientists further dove into the intricate link between ocean and climate. First, Jean-Pierre Gattuso (CNRS and IDDRI) presented the SROCC’s conclusions on the degrading state of the ocean. Then, the four challenges identified in the policy document – mitigation, adaptation, science and sustainable finance – were individually addressed by Anna Zivian (Ocean Conservancy), Emily Pidgeon (Conservation international), Torsten Thiele (Global Ocean Trust) and Lisa A. Levin (SCRIPPS Institute of Oceanography). In conclusion, Romain Troublé (Tara Ocean Foundation, President of the Platform) introduced the Platform’s Call to Action and its 20 recommendations. Teresa Solana, from the climate team of the Ministry of Ecological Transition of Spain, gave the closing remarks and recalled the importance of multi-stakeholder approaches to tackle the climate crisis.

We expect decision-makers to hear our call and to make the most of this Blue COP, for the sake of the climate, the ocean, its biodiversity and the human communities depending on it.

Romain Troublé, President of the Ocean and Climate Platform

The Platform pursued its mobilisation efforts throughout the COP and participated in many other side-events, notably in collaboration with the Because the Ocean initiative, the Ocean Acidification Alliance (OAA), the Pacific Community, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, IDDRI, the Global Ocean Forum, Conservation International, the Tara Ocean Foundation and the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM).

As a long-term partner of the Because the Ocean initiative, the Platform supported the production and release at COP25 of its latest report Ocean for Climate : Ocean-related measures in Climate strategies. This report presents a series of concrete ocean-related measures that governments can implement to preserve and protect the ocean and its ecosystems, particularly in the perspective of COP26 (Glasgow, UK, 2020) when Parties are expected to revise, with higher ambition, their national determined contributions (NDCs).

Oceans Action Day at COP25

As every year since 2016, the Ocean and Climate Platform has been one of the main partners of the Oceans Action Day, led by the Global Ocean Forum, and which, for the first time this year, ran over two days. An unprecedented number of side-events took place addressing the the ocean-climate nexus within and beyond the UNFCCC, the integration of ocean-related measures into NDCs, the role of ocean science in developing adaptation and migration solutions, and how to galvanize support for ocean and climate action. Over 200 people took part in this edition of the Oceans Action Day[1] and contributed to the assessment of existing measures but also the identification of remaining action gaps in favor of the protection of the ocean and the climate. The Oceans Actions days also enabled discussions on the policy implications and subsequent opportunities for action arising from the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere (SROCC) and the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.

The momentum for the ocean even reached the European Union which decided to organize its own EU Ocean Day (December 7th), during which the recently elected EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ocean and Fisheries, H.E. Virginijus Sinkevičius, stressed the importance of the ocean in the upcoming EU Green Deal. The Ocean and Climate Platform concluded the EU Ocean Day session with the presentation of its policy recommendations.

Lastly, in the run-up to COP25, a group of 15 ocean experts, including the Ocean and Climate Platform, was mobilized by the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP) on Adaptation to plan collaborative follow-up actions on the ocean to fill knowledge gaps. In Madrid, a Forum bringing together the members of this group and the States Parties to the Convention met around 4 objectives (adaptation, dissemination of knowledge, collaboration and NWP support to the implementation of the Paris Agreement), reflecting the growing interest in ocean issues within the UNFCCC sphere.

Outcomes of COP25: a bittersweet feeling for the ocean community

COP25 was supposed to end on 13 December, after two intense weeks of negotiations and debates. Yet, due to the lack of a satisfying agreement, the negotiations were extended over two days during which delegations worked tirelessly to reach a meaningful agreement. On 15 December, the UNFCCC Secretariat released the final adopted decision: Chile Madrid Time for Action, whose conclusions were received with bitterness by both some governments and civil society.

As stated by Dr. Lisa Levin (Scripps Institute of Oceanography), “few will know how hard-fought this ocean outcome was at COP 25.”[2] Indeed, many coalitions of countries rallied to bring the ocean into the final decision. Although less ambitious than the text initially submitted by Chile, Costa Rica, Fiji and Indonesia, the final decision remains a considerable step forward for the blue community, who sees for the first time the ocean embedded in a final decision of a UNFCCC COP. Moreover, this decision stresses the importance of the IPCC Special Reports on Land Use and the Ocean and Cryosphere, since it is calling on Parties to continue to support its work, as well as the need to combat biodiversity loss, underlining “the essential contribution of nature to addressing climate change.”[3]

Among ocean-related decisions taken by Parties, the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) is requested “to convene at its fifty-second session (June 2020) a dialogue on the ocean and climate change to consider how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action in this context.”[4] UNFCCC Parties and non-party stakeholders are called upon to submit inputs to inform this dialogue by 31 March 2020.[5] These measures are in addition to the Platform for Science-Based Ocean Solutions launched by Chile during the COP, which aims at bringing together different states, private and civil society actors to achieve a better integration of the ocean in the NDCs. The recommendations made by the Ocean for Climate report published by the Because the Ocean initiative will undoubtedly feed this platform with concrete mitigation and adaptation measures.

However, the commitments made by States at  COP25 do not seem to have convincingly met the level of ambition necessary to limit global warming to +1.5°C. In fact, even though around 80 countries committed to further reduce their GHG emissions by submitting a revised NDC, those countries only represent 10% of the global GHG emissions. For their part, the major developed countries, whose GHG emissions levels are much higher, have not demonstrated the ambition called for by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at last September’s Climate Summit in New York. Indeed, no agreement has been reached on the implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, whose negotiations had been deadlocked by Brazil, Australia and the United States[6] – among others -. Regarding Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, which tackles loss and prejudices, Parties reached an agreement of few measures : the Santiago Network on loss and prejudices and an expert group on action and support will be created within the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism. However, States did not agreed on how this mechanism would be governed. Those decisions have therefore been postponed, once again, to the following year, to the dismay of many island and developing States

The UK Presidency of COP26, led by Claire Perry O’Neil (Former UK Minister for Energy and Clean Growth) has already announced that the next Conference, to be held in Glasgow in November 2020, will be a continuation of the “Blue COP”, recalling that “we can do it. We have to make it happen. It is not an option, because there is no Planet B”.[7]

The Ocean and Climate Platform is committed to contributing to the various initiatives led by the UNFCCC and others to ensure that ocean-climate-biodiversity issues are taken into account in the discussions. With the collaboration of all of its members, the Platform will strongly advocate for identifying synergies between the different conventions related to climate and biodiversity. We can no longer address the issues related to the preservation of ecosystems and the fight against climate change separately: they are one and the same! 2020, announced as the “Super Year” for biodiversity, represents a unique opportunity to break down the silos, identify solutions and promote partnerships for the ocean-climate-biodiversity nexus.