Will world leaders take into account the climate role of the ocean at COP26?
[By Fermin Koop and Regina Lam]
World leaders, civil society and the media will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12 for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), originally scheduled for 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic.
The UK government hopes the conference will see countries come up with more ambitious emission reduction targets for 2030 and commit to an overall goal of reaching net zero by 2050. This would keep the possibility of countries alive. maintain an increase in global average temperature no more than 1.5-2C above pre-industrial levels, as committed in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The UK calls on countries to prioritize phasing out coal, accelerating the arrival of electric vehicles, mobilizing international climate finance and ending deforestation.
The last conference, COP25, which was held in Madrid in 2019, was billed as the “blue COP” because it aimed to set a precedent by linking ocean issues to the UN negotiations on the climate change.
A few days before the opening of COP26, it is not clear how much weight ocean issues will have on the current agenda, but marine experts are very hopeful that they will occupy an important place.
How will the ocean be at COP26?
Marine issues are likely to feature in formal COP discussions as well as side events, which could lead to a political declaration on the ocean-climate issue at the end of the summit. Countries will also introduce updated climate commitments at the COP, known as NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), which are expected to include specific ocean targets.
Lisa Schindler Murray, senior director of policy and partnerships at Rare, a US-based conservation organization, said momentum around ocean-climate action will continue to grow at COP26, with countries integrating ecosystems oceanic and coastal in their mitigation and adaptation objectives. It also expects greater recognition of the role of local communities in ocean-climate action.
Because the Ocean, an initiative comprising 39 developed and developing countries that aims to mainstream the ocean into climate change policy, will launch a new declaration on the first day of the conference to highlight the ocean-climate nexus. In addition to demanding revised NDCs with ocean goals, they call for a holistic approach that addresses climate and biodiversity crises as one through COP26 and COP15 – the biodiversity conference that started in Kunming this month and will end in a second session next spring.
Calls for a “30 × 30” goal – to place 30 percent of the world’s ocean in marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030 – have multiplied. The goal is already in the initial draft of the COP15 agreement, and is the clearest and most widely supported of the proposals at the conference. MPAs currently cover about 8% of the ocean. They are considered one of the best ways to improve coastal ecosystems, which capture and store atmospheric carbon dioxide.
For Kat Dawson of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the UK ocean program for the Glasgow COP includes: ocean science for ocean action, and supporting the goal 30 × 30 and solutions based on marine nature.
Why is the ocean important for the climate – and vice versa?
The ocean provides us with food, trade, energy and livelihoods. Covering more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, it absorbs about 23 percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. It also regulates the climate by absorbing over 90 percent of the excess heat created by human-made greenhouse gases.
But we cannot take it for granted. Due to global warming, the ocean is slowly losing its ability to absorb carbon dioxide, which means more of the gas remains in the atmosphere, where it can heat the planet further.
Global warming poses great challenges for the ocean. Along with acidification, it has led to changes in patterns of marine ecosystems with serious impacts on species richness and distribution, and also with social and economic consequences for humans.
Murray Roberts, professor of marine biology at the University of Edinburgh, says there is a lack of awareness of the oceans and the role they play in the climate system. “They are so much hotter now and become corrosive from the CO2, which causes the oceans to acidify,” he adds. “Their very foundation is starting to crumble.”
Is enough attention being paid to ocean conservation?
In the run-up to COP26, governments and marine organizations raised awareness of ocean conservation at a series of conferences, including a high-level UN-hosted debate in June and a meeting on the Agreement on port state measures (a United Nations treaty requiring countries to close their ports to illegal fishing vessels and share real-time information) the same month.
The message was the same across all meetings, calling for “transformative” and actionable solutions on the ocean following delays caused by the pandemic. The targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14 include reducing ocean pollution, protecting and restoring marine ecosystems, tackling illegal fishing and ending subsidies that contribute to overfishing.
At a recent high-level meeting of the United Nations Global Compact, John Kerry, the President’s special climate envoy, acknowledged the “inextricable link” between the climate crisis and the ocean crisis. He said the United States would support the 30 × 30 target and the Zero-Emission Shipping Mission, which aims to make at least five percent of the world’s offshore vessels run on emission-free fuels by 2030.
Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, wrote in a recent editorial that COP26 is “the best opportunity in the world to strengthen the role of the ocean in the fight against climate change. “. He also sent an open letter to Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), calling for action on oceans at COP26.
What would ocean NGOs like to see at COP26?
Ghislaine Llewellyn, Acting Global Oceans Practices Manager at WWF International, said a successful COP26 would mainstream and mainstream oceans into climate solutions, and secure investments and commitments at the scale needed to address the climate crisis.
Meanwhile, Anna-Marie Laura, director of climate policy at Ocean Conservancy, said the ocean needs to be better integrated into UNFCCC processes, with an ocean-climate dialogue taking place at COP26. “Millions of people who live along the coasts or on low-lying islands cannot afford the ocean to remain an afterthought,” she added.
For Louisa Casson, ocean activist at Greenpeace UK, governments at COP26 must “step up climate action and protect the oceans as our lives depend on them – because they are doing it”. The climate crisis is an ocean crisis, she added, with warming oceans currently pushing entire ecosystems to the brink of collapse.
“The ocean cannot be neglected when countries implement ecosystem provisions under the UNFCCC,” said Carolina Hazin, Global Marine Policy Coordinator at BirdLife International. “We hope that the representatives of the States at COP26 fully integrate marine biodiversity into their climate commitments, but also act to respect them when they return home. “
In a statement, the NGO Seas at Risk said all countries must “act responsibly as a matter of urgency,” starting with “drastically” reducing emissions and recognizing that ocean action is climate action. “The ocean can only protect us from climate change if it is resilient, with thriving and diverse marine life and healthy ecosystems,” they added.
Fermín Koop is an Argentine journalist specializing in the environment with experience in various publications such as the Buenos Aires Herald, Clarín, Ámbito Financiero, Buena Salud and Notio Noticias.
Regina Lam is an editorial assistant intern at China Dialogue Ocean. She is also a freelance journalist based in London.
This article is courtesy of China Dialogue Ocean and can be found in its original form here.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.