Zhi Yi : Beyond COP24 – Including the oceans in climate negotiations

While the oceans at COP have come a long way and continue to gain traction at the climate negotiations, there is still a long way to go before the oceans can claim to have a key stake at the negotiations. In this final blogpost, I will touch on some of the key steps moving forward in order to better incorporate the oceans into the negotiations.

  • Stronger frameworks for cooperation

The first step and in my regards the most important aspect of including the oceans within the climate negotiations is the need for stronger frameworks of cooperation. One key question that was raised numerous times by policymakers and practitioners with regards to the oceans was how the open seas and international waters should be included in the climate negotiations. Currently, nations have sovereignty over areas within the country’s exclusive economic zones (barring disputed territories), and thus may be incentivised to include such areas within the country’s mitigation or adaptation strategies. However, a large area of the oceans is not under the jurisdiction of any nation, but instead falls under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Since no state can lay claims of sovereignty over the high seas, no state is incentivised to include these international territories under adaptation or mitigation strategies. Such areas present an uncharted territory to the climate negotiations, as the current framework which deals primarily with countries is unable to account for such international territories. Stronger cooperation between the UNFCCC and other international treatises and agreements is therefore needed to enforce both the protection of such territories and also explore the possibilities of including such areas for mitigation action. Within the UNFCCC process, new frameworks should also be considered that allow for multilateral cooperation between countries and count such contributions towards the nation’s climate commitments.

  • Greater understanding of the impacts of climate change in open water ecosystems and the role they play in mitigation

Currently, much research on the ocean-climate linkage has been focused near-shore ecosystems and ecosystems on the continental shelf, with significantly less attention placed on open-sea ecosystems and deep-sea ecosystems. This lack of understanding is in part due to the lack of available data on such ecosystems. More resources should therefore be dedicated to the study of these ecosystems and also the linkages between these different marine ecosystems.

  • Mechanisms for including ocean-related mitigation strategies

The role of Land use, Land-use change and Forestry (LULUCF) activities in mitigating climate change has long been recognised by the UNFCCC. However, no such mechanism is in place to recognize the role of marine ecosystems as carbon sinks[1]. By providing mechanisms that allow for the inclusion of the oceans in their mitigation strategies, states will have another pathway to raise their ambition of their NDCs and their climate commitments.

  • Updated review of text of Paris Agreement rulebook

Bodansky & Biniaz reviewed the Paris Agreement Work Programme Texts[2] (latest update, November 2018) for any text that is helpful or problematic for the inclusion of the oceans in the Paris Agreement Rulebook. Since the negotiations at COP24, this review should be updated to reflect any changes within the working drafts and the final agreed text.

The upcoming launch of the IPCC Special Report on “The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” in 2019 promises that the oceans will indeed have a significant place in COP 25. That, and the momentum gained from the launch of the Ocean Partnership Pathway during COP 23 and the hard work from the recent COP 24 will ensure that the oceans will feature significantly in COP 25 and hopefully beyond.

[1] Carbon sinks refer to any activity, process, or mechanism which removes greenhouse gas from the atmosphere

[2] Daniel Bodansky and Susan Biniaz, “Review of Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) Texts,” 2018.

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