15 December 2019 – Two weeks of climate talks ended this morning, in overtime, as always. And, as (nearly) always, they adopted by consensus a document – a Decision – reflecting the convoluted, complex, and often confounding negotiations.
Like the sword of Damocles, hanging over Parties’ heads is next year’s start of the second Ambition Cycle of the Paris Agreement. Parties are aware of warnings by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that unless action is accelerated worldwide, and ambition increased, we are on a trajectory that leads humankind toward an environmental crisis of epic proportions.
Delegates and observers at COP25 are expressing their strong dissatisfaction, concern and sadness for a COP outcome that fails to reflect the political resolve called for by the severity of the on-going climate emergency.
The good news is that for the first time, the COP Decision recognizes the importance of the ocean, and launches a process to begin in 2020, which will hopefully strengthen linkages between climate and ocean policies.
Dubbed the Blue COP by the Chilean Presidency, this year’s COP saw climate and ocean practitioners and advocates working together to highlight the linkages between the ocean and climate change. After all, the ocean absorbs 90% of anthropogenic heat and one third of the CO2 we produce, and this comes with a cost for marine life. Ocean temperatures are increasing, the ocean is more acidic due to increased concentrations of CO2, the melting of polar ice and glaciers are elevating sea levels, and ocean-related extreme weather patterns are affecting humans, marine wildlife and habitats, not to mention the global economy. Coral reefs, hosting no less than 30% of the species of marine life known to date, are under extreme stress and are threatened as a result of ocean warming, acidification, and extreme storms.
Here is what the COP Decision says in relation to the ocean:
Commends the efforts of the COP25 President to highlight the importance of the ocean, including as an integral part of the Earth’s climate system, and of ensuring the integrity of ocean and coastal ecosystems in the context of climate change (Paragraph 29)
Requests the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to convene in June 2020 a dialogue on the ocean and climate change to consider how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action in this context (Paragraph 30)
Invites Parties and non-Party stakeholders to submit by 31 March inputs to inform the dialogue (Paragraph 32)
Requests the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to prepare a summary report on the dialogue (Paragraph 33)
In parallel, another dialogue on land and climate change related matters will also be conducted by SBSTA in 2020.
Earlier this week, Claire Perry O’Neill, the designated Chair of COP26 scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November 2020, highlighted the importance of the ocean for climate ambition, hinting that COP26 would be a continuation of the Blue COP. With the mandate now given to the Chair of the Convention’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice on this issue, everything points out to a growing swell of attention for the ocean in the context of climate change.
The first Because the Ocean Declaration, adopted at COP21 in Paris in 2015 stated that “in keeping with the sense of urgency, it is high time to promote an Ocean action plan under the UNFCCC”.
Before COP25, the Secretariat of the Because the Ocean Initiative organized a series of all-inclusive regional workshops, held respectively in Santiago, Chile, Madrid, Spain, and Suva, Fiji, which resulted in the release in October 2019 of the Ocean for Climate report, a menu of ocean-related measures for climate strategies.
During COP25, the integration of the ocean within the work of the UNFCCC was championed by a “Friends of the Ocean” group of countries led by Monaco, Costa Rica, Fiji, Indonesia, Norway among others.
The Ocean and Climate report will continue to be a useful tool for UNFCCC Parties and other stakeholders, as submissions must be prepared by 31 March 2020 for the SBSTA ocean dialogue in June, as well as for updating Parties’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to form the 2nd Paris Agreement Ambition Cycle to be launched at COP26 in November 2020.