01.12.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector

Keeping ocean-related issues at the top of the agenda for climate talks

Joe Bunni+- 5 mètres

The importance of the oceans to global climate change cannot be underestimated. The fragile and interconnected nature of ocean ecosystems and human activities has in recent decades become readily apparent. From climate change and its diverse impacts on oceans, through to the destruction of and damage to marine ecosystems, the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the natural environment, including from overfishing and destructive fishing, human impact on the ocean has been profound.

The direct results of human activities on the ocean and through climate change are causing the blue part of this blue planet to warm, rise, and lose oxygen. With coastal development continuing at a rapid pace, society is becoming increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise and variability as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated in New Orleans in 2005. Other aspects of climate change and land subsidence significantly exacerbate this effect though the relative importance of these factors varies from location.

It is important that ocean issues are considered in international negotiations and agreements on climate change, including the ongoing Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17) in Durban and the main outcome document of Rio+20 in 2012. UNESCO and its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC) both participate in COP17 as observers, providing expertise and inputs upon request by Member States. The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) also contributes directly to the actions under the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change as the ocean component of the Global Climate Observation System (GCOS).

IOC will be participating in and co-organizing important side events, such as the Oceans Day on 3 December 2011. Oceans Day at Durban will draw high-level attention to ocean issues during the COP17 climate talks, highlighting the direct link between climate change, the health of the oceans, and human well-being, as well as the need for sufficient funding to support bold mitigation and adaptation measures that will minimize climate change impacts on coastal communities and ocean ecosystems and resources.

Wendy Watson-Wright, Assistant Director-General and Executive Secretary of UNESCO-IOC, will co-chair the event with Deputy Minister Mrs. Rejoice Mabudafhasi of the Ministry of Water and Environmental Affairs, South Africa, and Biliana Cicin-Sain, President of the Global Ocean Forum.
The main objectives of the Oceans Day at Durban are to:

  • Raise awareness of the central role of oceans in global climate processes, and the fact that coastal and island communities are at the frontline of climate change, and will suffer disproportionate impacts from climate change, e.g. ocean warming, sea level rise, extreme weather events, and ocean acidification; and
  • Support the development of a coastal and ocean caucus of countries and support the countries in efforts to bring the ocean and coasts issues into the UNFCCC negotiations on mitigation, adaptation, financing, and capacity development/technology transfer.

The agenda includes a presentation of the interagency blue paper ‘A blueprint for ocean and coastal sustainability’, produced by UNESCO-IOC, UNDP, IMO and FAO towards the preparation of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

On 6 December 2011, UNESCO-IOC is co-organizing a side event with the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS) and UNEP on ‘The importance of science in Africa’s Development’, where UNESCO-IOC initiatives in support of science and education as drivers for economic development in Africa will be presented.  

UNESCO-IOC will also participate in ‘Ocean Acidification: the Other half of the CO<sub>2</sub> Problem’, a side event organized by UNDP on 8 December 2011. CO<sub>2</sub> is causing our oceans to acidify at rates not seen for last 20 million years; business as usual scenarios for CO<sub>2</sub> emissions will lead to increases in ocean acidity by 2050 with potentially dramatic effects on marine life, including socioeconomic. This side event addresses the other CO<sub>2</sub> problem.

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