The ocean center stage at the UN COP22 climate talks: A Strategic Action Roadmap Unveiled
Following the Paris Agreement’s unprecedented recognition of the ocean’s role in the climate, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) helped mobilize governments, civil society and the scientific community around major action initiatives to push ocean issues into the COP22 climate agenda and provide ocean-based solutions to climate change.
IOC at COP22: check out all the pictures.
Between 7-18 November, the 22nd Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) in Marrakech focused on the possible initiatives and solution to implement the Paris Agreement – the landmark climate agreement that for the first time in history not only united all countries around commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but also recognized the important role the ocean plays in the earth’s climate. The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, after ratification by the countries responsible for at least 55% of total global greenhouse emissions.
For UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, COP22 was an opportunity to seize the Paris momentum to extend our engagement with and mobilization of the policy, research and civil society communities for more effective integration of ocean perspectives into climate change mitigation and adaptation mechanisms. The word of the moment in Marrakech was clear for all stakeholders: action.
President of the Global Ocean Forum and long-time IOC partner in advocating for greater attention to ocean issues at the UN climate COPs, Biliana Cicin-Sain called on actors at COP22 to focus on “real action initiatives…in mitigation, in adaptation, in dealing with displacement, in financing to make sure that oceans, coasts and Small Island Developing States get a sufficient amount of resources to deal with the impacts of climate change.” Throughout COP22, IOC sought to contribute to the solutions agenda through a strong, science-based perspective, ensuring that science continues to underpin the ocean and climate policy debate.
A Strategic Action Roadmap on Oceans and Climate
The Oceans Action Day was the flagship side-event for ocean and climate issues at COP22. High level opening addresses by H.R.H. Princess Lalla Hasna of Morocco, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, French Minister of Environment, Energy and the Sea Ségolène Royal, and European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella, significantly raised the Day’s profile, attracting wide attention among government and observer delegations in the Blue Zone area of the Bab Ighli conference site.
The full-day side event on 12 November showcased how the world is tacking climate change impacts on oceans, seas and coastal and island contexts while announcing new initiatives totaling financial contributions of over U$4 billion by 2020.
Chief among the initiatives presented during Oceans Action Day, the Strategic Action Roadmap on Oceans and Climate: 2016 to 2021 will provide a roadmap to the entire ocean and climate community for the next five years, addressing major areas of concern such as ensuring that climate financing flows into ocean-based solutions for mitigation, adaptation, capacity development, among other important elements.
The IOC participated actively in the consultation and preparation process that led to the publication of the Strategic Action Roadmap, particularly as main contributor to the capacity development and ocean science and observations aspects of the strategy. IOC hopes to mobilize governments to allocate appropriate investments in oceanography and marine sciences to improve the knowledge base on interactions between oceans and climate, especially through strengthening global ocean observation networks and enhancing the human and technical capacities of vulnerable countries.
Beyond the Oceans Action Day, the IOC co-organized a number of key side-events both in the negotiation and the civil society areas to engage as many and varied actors as possible around ocean and climate issues, notably a side event with UN-Oceans (9 November) - a coordination mechanism involving all UN agencies working on ocean issues –, and the Ocean and Climate Forum (11 November), jointly organized with the Ocean and Climate Platform and the Global Ocean Forum.
Speaking at the Ocean and Climate Forum on the linkages between ocean science and the climate system, IOC Executive Secretary Vladimir Ryabinin stressed “the need for better communication between scientists and policy-makers [through] a new framework of co-design to turn ocean science into climate action.”
Science-based ocean solutions for climate change
Turning ocean science into effective climate action was a common theme to various side events co-organized by IOC in partnership with various governments and scientific institutions. IOC’s Executive Secretary participated in three side events organized by the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Egypt’s National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, helping provide an integrated and updated perspective on climate change projections for both natural and human ocean systems, including hot topics such as ocean warming, acidification, deoxygenation and sea-level rise.
More than just an update on ocean and climate science, these events attempted to communicate otherwise highly technical data into messages for climate negotiators and policy-makers. Speaking on behalf of IOC at a side event entitled “Science for informed mitigation and adaptation choices,” Libby Jewett, Director of the Ocean Acidification Programme at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), narrowed down the ocean’s acidification as a result of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions to a tweetable quote: “What goes into the air, goes into the ocean!”. This side event co-organized by the World Meteorological Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and other UN Agencies focused on translating the information gained through marine science into data that is useful for a broad audience, including policy-makers.
From experts studying Polar Regions to those specializing in the African context, IOC helped provide a platform for conveying scientific findings to national decision-makers. At stake, the health of the symbiotic relationship between policy solutions and a strong science knowledge base to back technological and ecosystem-based solutions to climate change. Speaking during the policy session of the Ocean and Climate Forum, IOC’s Head of Marine Policy and Regional Coordination emphasized that “science is needed to support action, but action is also needed to support science.” In a context where the ocean suffers from multiple impacts, more and better financed interdisciplinary science is needed more than ever.
Blue Carbon: Mitigation on Steroids
The promise of science and existing climate change solutions was perhaps most visible at the UNESCO Pavilion on 10 November, during a special event focused on Blue Carbon – the carbon captured by ocean and coastal ecosystems such as seagrass, mangroves and salt marshes.
Organized by the Blue Carbon Initiative, a partnership between the IOC, Conservation International and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this side event demonstrated how, with appropriate financing mechanisms in place, blue carbon can limit the loss of coastal ecosystems and boost their recovery. Side event panelist Emily Pidgeon (Conservation International) explained how “over the last five years, blue carbon has grown from what it is essentially a scientific oddity – something that only the scientific community is aware of – to something that here in Marrakech is very much at the forefront.”
The numbers don’t lie about the Blue Carbon potential: according to Conservation International’s Jennifer Howard, “restoring 25-50% of blue carbon ecosystem areas could yield a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 20 million tons.” This enormous potential is a strong argument for conserving blue carbon ecosystem areas like mangroves, which are true hubs for marine biodiversity, but which are threatened by multiple impacts generated by human activities.
Mobilizing the private sector
The final axis of IOC’s mobilization strategy for COP22 revolved around engaging key private sector partners. IOC’s Dr. Ryabinin notably participated in a side event entitled “Ocean and Climate: Moving from Agreement to Action”, organized by French environmental company SUEZ. Jean-Louis Chaussade, SUEZ CEO, put the impacts of plastic pollution front and center in his opening statement, expressing concern that “by 2030, we risk having as much microplastic as fish in the ocean.”
SUEZ has taken a firm and pronounced engagement around ocean and climate issues. As a long-standing partner of IOC, SUEZ has sponsored various ocean communication and literacy initiatives, in particular through sponsorship of IOC activities around World Oceans Day – celebrated each year on 8 June.
SUEZ and IOC are looking to expand the partnership in 2017 to include cooperation around two flagship IOC conferences: the 2nd International Conference on Marine Spatial Planning (Paris, 15-17 March 2017) UN Conference in Support of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (New York, 5-9 June 2016).
What next for ocean and climate?
Looking forward past COP22, IOC will continue to engage actively on ocean and climate policy and research. Mobilizing governmental partners and private sector stakeholders will be crucial to implementing the Strategic Action Roadmap on Oceans and Climate.
IOC will furthermore continue to act as a focal point for science-policy dialogue worldwide, coordinating new research activities and identifying emerging issues with regard to climate change impacts on the ocean, climate change mitigation through the conservation and restoration of blue carbon coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves and salt marshes and bolstering the overall contribution of the ocean to achieving the SDGs on conserving the ocean and combatting climate change.
For more information, please contact:
Julian Barbière (j.barbière(at)unesco.org)
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