The ocean has been recognized at COP21 as never before. Previously all but ignored within the UNFCCC process, the last ten days have seen the ocean come up time and again, in terms of sea level rise, acidification, warming, saltwater incursion, storm surges, oxygen production, carbon sequestration, glacial loss and even habitat creep for fish species.
Calling on the parties to reflect this importance within the Agreement, ocean groups say that the protection of ecosystem integrity should be explicitly included in Article 3 Mitigation. Arni Finnsson of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association said: “It is is vital that we take explicit steps to protect the ecosystem integrity of the ocean and other systems. The more we allow the ocean to degrade, the greater the threats will be and the more we will lose its vital mitigation functions.”
Peggy Kalas of the High Seas Alliance added: “This provision needs to be in addition to commitments such as temperature and emissions limits as it recognizes the importance of addressing ecosystems as a whole and maintaining their integrity as far as possible. In the case of the ocean this would point to reducing all other stressors in order that the marine environment has the best chance of surviving climate change and continuing to provide vital functions.”
The groups are also calling for:
Scientists and policy experts are attending the COP and available for comment.
IMPACTS – OCEAN SCIENCE SINCE COPENHAGEN COP15
There has been a step-change in the volume and depth of scientific knowledge about the impacts of climate change on the ocean since the Copenhagen COP.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014 included an unprecedented level of recognition given to ocean issues (www.ipcc.ch) by including an ocean-focused chapter for the first time. AR5 has identified serious risks to marine ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal livelihoods. (See Notes).
A major paper looking at ocean impacts under different emissions scenarios published in Science July 2015 concluded that the percentage of 21st century anthropogenic CO2 emissions that will continue to be absorbed by the ocean is projected to decline, which means that more emissions will stay in the atmosphere. (Gattuso et al, 2015).
OCEANS AND THE COP PROCESS
The UNFCCC makes explicit reference to the role of oceans and forests in the implementation of the Convention (Article 4), however, there is no specified agenda item on the ocean, unlike forests.
Most countries have included adaptation and mitigation strategies in their INDCs. However reference to marine and coastal ecosystem based approaches are often lacking. Surprisingly many coastal countries, including islands, make no specific reference to measures such as marine and coastal Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA) or mitigation.
* Including MPA Action Group, High Seas Alliance, WWF, IUCN, Mission Blue, TARA, Global Ocean Trust, RARE, GLISPA (Global Island Partnership), Ocean Unite, Global Ocean Commission.