DSCC News

Reaction to COP21: Gains for the Ocean but More is Needed

12 December 2015

Source: Oceans Inc

Responding to the final Agreement text announced at COP21 today, ocean groups were positive about a growing recognition for the importance of the ocean in climate change but disappointed by the lack of overall ambition in terms of reducing levels of dangerous CO2 in the atmosphere.

Despite being the largest biosphere on Earth and a central component of the climate system, the ocean has not featured in previous Agreements.  The Paris Agreement includes recognition for the ocean within the Preamble and in the Agreement itself, under the banner of Ecosystem Integrity. This provides a basis for greater understanding of the need for marine protection and should help to move the ocean onto the agenda for future meetings.

Limiting temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels will not deliver ocean protection. 1.5C has been acknowledged as the highest rise tolerable to avoid irreversible acidification and to protect vulnerable ecosystems such as coral reefs and vulnerable people such as those living on islands.

There is also real concern about the lack of commitments and specific actions within the Agreement to ensure that even 2C can be achieved. Still, the Paris Agreement review mechanism will provide an infrastructure to work toward a 1.5 level and monitor progress. A key message coming out of COP21 is that what happens next is as important as what has been agreed.

Andre Abreu of Tara Expeditions said: “For two weeks the ocean has been at the heart of Paris with more than 70 events. It is a great step forward in driving the importance of the ocean and provides us with a strong platform to push for more protection through a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement and other conservation measures.”

Peggy Kalas of High Seas Alliance said: “While we applaud that finally governments have joined together to address climate change through the Paris Agreement, this is just the beginning and we urge that the momentum seen in Paris continues as we work to limit climate change to 1.5C. Otherwise we run the risk of irreparably damaging the ocean, its marine biodiversity, its food supply for billions, and its key role in regulating our planet's climate.”  

Arni Finnsson of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association said: “We strongly appreciate the momentum in support of 1.5°C as recognition that this is what ecosystems can tolerate. This is vital for Island nations.”

Charlotte Vick of Mission Blue added “We will work together as an ocean community of citizens, scientists, leaders and advocates to restore the ocean and the island communities on the frontline. We are confident that armed with knowledge and the impetus of the Agreement, people will act to restore our future on this tiny blue planet.”

Another issue for the ocean groups is the need for an investment of finance into ocean mitigation and adaptation and in this regard the Agreement has proved positive.

Torsten Thiele of the Global Ocean Trust said: “It is great that we have a broadly-based agreement in place that will allow ocean and coastal conservation solutions to play an important role in addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation challenges. It is now key that we develop climate finance mechanisms and nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to fully reflect this goal.”

At the start of the COP, Governments began signing on to the “Because the Ocean’ declaration which had reached 22 signatories by the close of the meeting http://www.globaloceancommission.org/because-the-ocean/

Karen Sack of Ocean Unite said: “For the first time, in Paris, 22 countries raised the importance of the Ocean as an Earth system at a Climate COP, indicating that we are ready to enter a new era of climate action that includes the planet’s blue part which represents 75% of the Earth’s surface.

**************

BACKGROUND NOTES

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.

A major study 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