Zhi Yi: Identifying and understanding the ways in which oceans are mentioned in climate change policy

As an Environmental Studies major and a diver concerned about the state of our oceans, climate change is naturally an issue of interest to me. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions are altering marine ecosystems towards states that has not been observed for millions of years, with risk of irreversible changes to these ecosystems[1]. However, it is only recently that the oceans have received more significant attention in climate negotiations, with much further action still necessary. My goal for this conference is to investigate how oceans are being included (or omitted) from countries’ adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Before the conference itself, I intend to do some research and look into the literature to first better understand countries’ current initiatives and efforts. Gallo et al.’s (2017)[2] analysis of the inclusion of marine ecosystems in countries’ NDCs will prove to be useful here and will help direct me to further research that has been done in this field. I have also reached out to Dr. Webster from Dartmouth College who specializes in marine policy and will hopefully be able to meet her while in Katowice. I intend to come up with a list of questions which I can then use to engage policymakers/researchers working in these areas. The Ocean Pathway Partnership[3] was also successfully launched in COP23 by the co-chairs, Fiji and Sweden. Following up on this partnership, the Pacific and Koronivia Pavilion will be hosted in COP24, with a line-up of side events[4] slated to happen in Katowice. I plan to attend these events and of course take notes on what has been done and what is being done by countries that are part of this Partnership. I also will keep a lookout for relevant plenaries including coastal states (especially Fiji, and other states in AOSIS) and take notes from there. I will of course try to engage policymakers/researchers that have been doing research in this area to find out more. Finally, I have also volunteered to interview Mr Ong Tze Huang from the National Climate Change Secretariat and intend to ask specific questions about Singapore’s inclusion of marine ecosystem in its NDCs (currently Singapore includes marine-related adaptation in its NDC, but not mitigation).

One key actionable of the Ocean Pathway is to develop a strategy for increasing the role of ocean considerations in the UNFCCC process. This includes creating a more “ocean-friendly” Paris rulebook which would better consider the impacts of climate change on the oceans. Furthermore, achieving the ambition of the Paris Agreement (to keep warming 1.5 or well below 2 degrees) would not be possible without a functioning ocean. The oceans thus present both a challenge (in terms of adaptation) and an opportunity (in terms of mitigation) to the Paris Agreement.

Through this conference, I hope to have a better understanding of how the oceans are being represented in the UNFCCC process. The oceans have only just started to gain more attention at the climate conferences, and I am keen to find out more about upcoming initiatives that will better incorporate the oceans into negotiations. Since this is also such a new field, I also hope to be able to identify knowledge gaps, and potentially pursue one of these gaps as a capstone project. Finally, the conference also presents an opportunity for me to meet others working on similar topics, and I hope to be able to connect with them to expand my professional network and explore possible future collaborations.

[1] O. Hoegh-Guldberg and J. F. Bruno, “The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystems,” Science 328, no. 5985 (June 18, 2010): 1523–28, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1189930.

[2] Natalya D. Gallo, David G. Victor, and Lisa A. Levin, “Ocean Commitments under the Paris Agreement,” Nature Climate Change 7, no. 11 (2017): 833–38, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3422.

[3] https://cop23.com.fj/the-ocean-pathway/

[4] https://cop23.com.fj/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Programme-Pacific-and-Koronivia-Pavilion-Schedule-2.pdf

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