Oceans Day at COP21: Galvanizing public support and moving the ocean and climate agenda forward

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© UNESCO/Silvia Mendes Freire

On the heels of the Ocean and Climate Forum (3 December 2015), the Climate Generations Areas hosted on 4 December 2015, the Oceans Day at COP21, furthering the expression of civil society for the integration of the ocean into the future climate regime. This full-day event was organized by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, the Global Ocean Forum and the Ocean and Climate Platform.

The Oceans Day at COP21 built on the recommendations and solutions put forward by the Ocean and Climate Forum, previous UNFCCC Oceans Days and the Oceans Day at Rio+20, as well as the outcome of World Oceans Day organized by IOC and the Ocean and Climate Platform on 8 June 2015 at UNESCO Headquarters.

In order to achieve its aim of advancing the climate and ocean agenda of the UNFCCC and beyond, the event fostered political leadership with the engagement of high-level personalities to draw attention to the need for adoption of an ambitious agreement at COP21. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General; Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC Executive Secretary; Ségolène Royal, Minister of Ecology (France); H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco; Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., President of the Republic of Palau; and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of Environment (Peru) were present, among various other ministers, ambassadors, and members and heads of research institutes and international organizations.

Following the debate that took place during the Ocean and Climate Forum with the scientific community and civil society, the Oceans Day at COP21 underlined the major climate and ocean issues from a political point of view, with emphasis on the impacts on the most vulnerable peoples and ecosystems, and suggested next steps both within and outside the UNFCCC framework.

“Thanks to its various ocean observing systems, IOC is an authoritative agency within the UN. But we have to go further and mitigate ocean acidification, address ecosystem services, and implement marine protected areas. Having good science is necessary, but it needs to be turned into actions so we can leave a safer world for the new generation,” said Vladimir Ryabinin, who gave the example of the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway, in which the need to support and invest in SIDS so they can achieve sustainable development was recognized. He also asserted the Commission’s support of an IPCC Special Report on the ocean, first proposed by Monaco.

H.S.H. Prince Albert II added: “The ocean is at the heart of our civilization: 40% of the world’s population lives within 60 kilometers of the coast, and this figure is likely to increase due to tourism and migration.” At the same time, “ecosystems are at risk in many regions, where some species are unfortunately disappearing. We need marine protected areas to help develop a model respectful of the sea and people. The ocean can also play a central role in energy transition, which is the only sustainable way.” Calling for new strategies, he said further political efforts were needed to strengthen the focus on the ocean in the climate negotiations.

President of Palau Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. announced that his country had “recently established a National Marine Sanctuary” including a “no-take” zone of 500,000 square kilometers, and that it “plans to reduce emissions by half by 2025.” Palau is also the first Pacific country to ratify a global pact to curb illicit fishing.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal proclaimed that “when we talk about climate change, there are two key elements and qualified objectives: decarbonizing our ecosystems through mitigation, and building resilient ecosystems.” He concluded his speech by declaring that “the ocean is blue and blue is the color of peace and hope. Let’s surf that beautiful wave for the future.” 

The last panel of the day, which Irina Bokova co-chaired, was dedicated to the proposal of a five-year agenda to guide policy and action.

“COP21 is a historical moment because we stand at a crossroads. The future of the ocean is not a technical matter but a question of values,” she declared, highlighting IOC’s work in ocean research and addressing climate change and the fate of the ocean as a “single agenda”.

Leaders presented the way forward on challenges and solutions with a strategic plan focused on priority issues such as mitigation, adaptation, financing, capacity development, public education, ocean science and observation.

At the end of the event, Romain Troublé and Catherine Chabaud, representatives of the Ocean and Climate Platform, alongside Vladimir Ryabinin, presented Irina Bokova with the 25,000 signatures collected since the launch of the Ocean’s Call for Climate last June on the occasion of World Oceans Day.

For a highlight of all the participants' intervention, click here.