Scientific community proposes recommendations for integration of ocean and coasts in COP21 agreement

As COP21 negotiations proceed into their second week, the scientific community continues to rally political leaders, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, civil society and the private sector in favor of an ambitious agreement that recognizes the importance of the ocean and coasts in the global climate system.

A few days after the Ocean and Climate Forum and the Oceans Day at COP21 mobilized the Climate Generations Areas at COP21, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO participated to a side-event centered on the outcomes of these two days on 7 December 2015 in the Blue Zone, reserved for UNFCCC negotiators and decision-makers.

The event reported on the major ocean and climate issues, with emphasis on the most vulnerable peoples and ecosystems, and laid out needed steps in the next five years, both within and outside the UNFCCC process.

The main recommendations that emerged at this occasion were the following:

  • Adopt stringent reductions in CO2 emissions to avoid disastrous consequences on coastal and island communities, marine ecosystems, and ocean chemistry, and limit warming to less than 2°C;
  • Incorporate oceans into the text of the Paris agreement;
  • Further develop and apply mitigation measures using the ocean;
  • Implement ecosystem-based adaptation strategies through integrated coastal and ocean management institutions at national, regional, and local levels;
  • Develop and support measures to address the issues associated with the displacement of coastal and island populations as a result of climate change;
  • Fund adaptation and mitigation efforts in coastal and island communities, notably through global public finance mechanisms;
  • Develop capacities in coastal and island communities, for example through the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway;
  • Strengthen the advancement of global marine observations, research, and related capacity development within the UNFCCC processes and beyond;
  • Expand public outreach and education efforts.

Julian Barbière, Head of the Marine Policy and Regional Coordination Section at IOC; Angus Friday, Ambassador of Grenada to the United States; Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General; Biliana Cicin-Sain, President of the Global Ocean Forum; Hiroshi Terashima, President of the Ocean Policy Research Institute (Japan); Romain Troublé, Secretary General of Tara Expeditions; and Philippe Vallette, Vice-President of the World Ocean Network, notably provided their expertise on the subject.

Julian Barbière highlighted capacity development and the need for global observing systems, which are the basis for climate and ocean modeling. “Expanding IOC’s Global Ocean Observing System and Argo Programme is essential to get high quality measurements, but national contributions are stagnant. Likewise, we need the full participation of countries to build and apply mitigation measures against ocean acidification in regional and local contexts.” He continued: “This is why an IPCC Special Report on the ocean is important: ocean and climate issues are scattered around. Having one single report will consolidate science and provide stronger tools to communicate with decision-makers.” He also announced that IOC will come up with a Global Ocean Science Report in 2017 to help identify technical capacity building development needs of countries in support of blue growth and ocean and climate issues.

Ambassador Angus Friday focused his intervention on the effects of climate change on SIDS: “Too often in climate negotiations we talk about 2°C, but cyclones, floods, hurricanes are already having huge impacts on SIDS. In Grenada, with one hurricane the damages are worth 200% of GDP. We are at a tipping point where climate change is actually inhibiting our ability to be resilient – it is a drag on our economy and increases our debts. In turn, SIDS cannot spend money on their own growth. Access to finances is critical to deal with the current challenges.”

FAO’s Maria Helena Semedo sent out three messages for COP21 negotiators about fisheries and aquaculture, which are vital resources for billions of people and support 10-12% of the world’s population: “One, improve the management and use of aquatic resources; two, develop sustainable aquaculture; and three, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerabilities of coastal communities.”

Philippe Vallette underlined the importance of education “to raise the awareness of citizens and to reach schoolchildren”. Messages should be adapted to each region and build on the communities that are “already on the frontlines of climate change, particularly SIDS.”

Romain Troublé, on behalf of the Ocean and Climate Platform, explained the work of the Platform leading up to and at COP21. With over a dozen exhibitions, events and activities organized around this topic, COP21 is the first UNFCCC COP in which the ocean plays such a crucial part.