16.11.2017 - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

UN agencies discuss responses to ocean change together at COP23

© UNESCO - Participants in the UN-Oceans side event at COP23, with IOC Executive Secretary Vladimir Ryabinin standing on the far right (11 November 2017, Bonn, Germany).

COP23, Bonn, Germany - On 11 November 2017, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) moderated the traditional UNFCCC COP side event by UN-Oceans – the United Nations inter-agency mechanism for ocean affairs. Entitled “Ocean and Climate: A Resilient Ocean for Future Generations”, the panel event sought to address climate related stressors on the ocean through improved scientific capacity, the development of CO2 mitigation strategies and innovative adaptation approaches.

Coordinated by UNESCO’s IOC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the objective of the side event was to present actions that countries are taking, with the support of the UN system, to combat the most notable effects of increasing greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere – ocean warming and acidification.

The panel was moderated by Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC-UNESCO Executive Secretary, and had closing remarks from Peter Thomson, who was appointed the first UN Special Envoy for the Ocean in September 2017. Participants included representatives of UN Environment, FAO, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“Oxygen in the ocean surface layer is decreasing, sea water is acidifying, and sea level is rising. We know this, and can make projections for the future, because of systematic ocean observations and science,” argued Vladimir Ryabinin. He highlighted how the IOC-UNESCO and the IAEA’s Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC) are collaborating closely to support the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON), a global platform launched in 2012 which brings together researchers working on ocean acidification monitoring.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere have increased by 40% since the start of the industrial revolution. Alternatively, about a quarter of the CO2 emitted through human activities is taken up by the ocean, causing a change in its chemistry: ocean acidification. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, ocean acidity has increased by 26% and the current rate of acidification is over 10 times faster than any time in the last 55 million years.

These changes are having knock-on effects on the ocean through coral bleaching and coastal erosion, which affect at once individual species and entire ecosystems. For instance, warming is projected to exceed the ability of reefs to survive the next 1-3 decades for the majority of the 29 World Heritage sites containing coral reefs, and the impact is aggravated by additional pressures such as ocean acidification and local stressors.

Peter Swarzenski, from the IAEA Environment Laboratories who participated in the panel, still keeps a hopeful outlook. “It is not too late. If we implement concrete actions now, we can avoid irreversible consequences for the ocean and the communities that depend on them,” he stressed.

The IAEA laboratories in Monaco host the OA-ICC, which actively communicates, promotes and facilitates activities in the area of ocean acidification, and works with many international partners, including IOC-UNESCO, to advance ocean acidification monitoring, research and capacity-building around the world. Ultimately, these efforts contribute to equip countries to respond to Sustainable Development Goal 14 and its Target 14.3 specifically addressing ocean acidification.

In his closing remarks, Peter Thomson highlighted the fact that “we have to talk of ocean change like we talk of climate change,” with the same urgency and purposefulness of action. They are two facets of a deeply interlinked global problem.

This is why the IOC-UNESCO is calling on all ocean and climate stakeholders to rally behind a United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), currently under review by the UN General Assembly. The Decade would help to increase public awareness on the topic and address a number of key science questions, including climate specific issues, while leveraging national science efforts toward a global partnership.

For more information, please contact:

Julian Barbière (j.barbiere(at)unesco.org

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