Zhi Yi: The Oceans @ COP 24

The oceans at COP have come a long way. Dr Carol Turley, a marine scientist from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory who has been attending COP since 2009, remarked in a conversation that only 1 or 2 marine scientists were present at the 2009 COP, as compared to the numerous marine scientists that were present at the conference now. Events such as the Oceans Action Day also used to be offsite events that happened outside of the main conference, a stark difference from the current schedule where marine-related events featured almost every day, on top of an Oceans Action Day within COP 24 dedicated to including the oceans in the climate conference.

As a greater understanding of how oceans are affected by climate change and are also key in solving the climate crisis we face, the attention placed on the oceans at the climate conferences have grown. From more well understood impacts of climate change on the oceans such as warming of the oceans and ocean acidification to less understood and more recently discovered impacts such as deoxygenation, scientists are continually increasing our understanding of the linkages between climate change and the oceans. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is also in the midst of preparing a special report titled “The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate”[1].

Other than the science, many policymakers and practitioners have also been talking about including oceans in NDCs and also strengthening the inclusion of oceans within the negotiations process. In fact, there has even been talk about making the next COP the “Oceans COP”, with this process spearheaded by nations and states mostly from the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and particularly Fiji. This attention on oceans is not only warranted, but also much needed, given the large-scale impacts that climate change will have on the oceans. Not only that, fulfilling the goal of keeping warming well under 2 degrees Celsius as stated in the Paris Agreements is also unlikely without healthy oceans.

As oceans become increasingly included at the conferences, the importance and need for greater cooperation to better protect the health of our oceans has also been continually highlighted. In fact, many of the needed actions as highlighted by the Options Paper by the Friends of the Oceans initiative resulting from the meetings in Bangkok[2] are also necessary actions to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. This highlights not only the importance of keeping to the Paris Agreement for the oceans, but also the need for commitments from not just coastal countries or island states, but from everyone – including land-locked countries. It is only with commitments from everyone will we be able to preserve the health of our oceans.

So far, this has only been a cursory introduction to the role of the oceans and the inclusion of oceans at the climate conference. In the next blogpost, I will further unpack and analyse the ocean-related events that took place during COP 24, and also look at steps moving forward.


[1] See: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/srocc/

[2] See: https://cop23.com.fj/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Options-Paper-Friends-of-the-Ocean-Bangkok.pdf

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