Friday, December 4, 2015

If only every day could be Ocean day!

It was a bright day for the Ocean at the UN climate talks in Paris on Friday.

Over fifty of the world’s greatest advocates for the Ocean ranging from Environment Ministers, EU Commissioners, Ambassadors, UN officials and eminent scientists shared a common concern and call.

All cited the importance of a healthy Ocean for planetary stability, all lamented the current fragile state of the Ocean, and all called for cohesive action moving forward.

This includes asking for strong political leadership to foster bold emission cuts and to promote ocean health for food security, people and ecosystems.

President Hollande when opening the UN talks said that the very future of life is at stake.
And it appeared that most speakers agreed.

The Ocean has suffered because of our escalating use of fossil fuels, having already absorbed about one-third of the additional carbon dioxide we have put into the air.

We also know that the pH of seawater is changing, becoming less alkaline.

Organisms that need to form hard parts, such as corals and anything with a shell are less able to do so.

In extreme conditions, shells literally corrode to nothing.

Science also shows that the rate of acidification now is faster than anything experienced in the past 250 million years - raising the question of how and whether species can adapt to this speed of change.

In addition to changing chemistry, the ocean is also warming.

About 93% of all the excess energy trapped in the Earth system by man-made greenhouse gases goes towards heating the ocean - compared to 1% for the atmosphere.

Most worryingly, it takes a very long time for the full impacts of greenhouse gas emissions to be realised in the ocean.

Even if we were to stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, changes would continue percolating down to the deep ocean for centuries.

The pragmatic response is to cut emissions as far and as fast as possible.
Perhaps the biggest question mark left on the table is whether the internationally agreed limit of 2 degrees C above pre- industrial levels will be enough.

Scientists speaking said that a two degree target still too high for the Ocean and the risks too great. 

Coral scientists have stated that reefs will not survive a 2 degree temperature increase.
Professor Carol Turley said, “We would argue from ocean target that 2 degrees is not a target - but an upper limit.”

Many speakers also called for greater finance and investment for adaptation, saying that the funds needed are huge.

They argued that the investment needed cannot be viewed as a small fraction of overall climate adaption costs.

Sir David King, the UK Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change eloquently stated that as a scientist he believes climate change to be the biggest single threat humanity faces.

He also added that the current response displayed in no way fits the challenge posed.

As negotiations continue this week and next tackling thorny issues of finance, adaptation and Loss and Damage, every Ocean advocate can agree one thing.

Paris2015 should produce an agreement informed by science which protects the most vulnerable people and ecosystems. Anything less won’t do.

See more coverage of Oceans Day in the Rio Pavilion from iisd