Thursday, December 3, 2015

Where the Sky Meets the Sea at COP21

The climate conference everyone's talking about - known as COP21 - is happening right now in Paris.

And as part of that, Thursday marked the first ever ‘climate and ocean day’ to showcase events and issues where a warming climate and its effects on the ocean are cause for concern.

As Enele Sopoaga Prime Minister of the Island of Tuvalu, threatened by rising seas, said at the opening of the conference: "If we save Tuvalu, we will surely save the world."

Thursday’s collection of ocean events covered a wide range of topics ranging from coral reefs to climate finance, and the changing state of the ocean.

We know much more now about the impacts of climate change on the ocean since the last time the international community came together to agree a global treaty in Copenhagen in 2009.

And the urgency for attention and action is even greater.

The ocean has already absorbed about one-third of the carbon dioxide we have put into the air, as well as about 90% of all the excess energy trapped in the Earth system from human caused greenhouse gases.

This has four main consequences, all of which threaten the vitality of life in the sea – a more acidic ocean, warming seas, rising seas and hypoxia – or lack of oxygen – which contributes to ‘dead zones’– areas where no or very little life can exist.

Science shows that the rate of acidification 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 that we are witnessing forced migration of species and increased major storm events.

All in all, it’s a fairly bleak picture.

Coral reefs are some of the first casualties of a changing climate.

A packed event on Thursday brought underwater expedition photographers, NGOs and countries that rely on reefs for tourism and fish together.

We know that more than one-third of the world's coral reefs are at risk this year from some level of bleaching — an effect that can whiten and kill coral as ocean temperatures rise.

And the changes in ocean temperatures and more frequent intense storm events mean that the reefs are less able to recover.

Without serious engagement, Paris may yet fail to deliver the platform it must create for meaningful climate action that creates a 2 degree or less pathway.

Minister Tony De Brum of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, when asked what climate change means to his country simply replied:

“It is life or death. If we do not do what we must do in conjunction with our development partners to put a stop to this madness, my country will no longer exist by the middle of the century.”

And yet while the risks grow, so do the opportunities.

Financing ocean conservation at scale is a growing concern.

An event dedicated to this subject brought together Ministers and NGOs looking at innovative approaches including ‘blue bonds,’ ‘debt swaps’ -  and where private and public funds can be leveraged for the greatest good for countries and across entire regions.

Citing amazing innovation and a forward looking solutions approach, Ronny Jumeau Ambassador of the Seychelles explained how his country is exchanging debt to save its seas stating:"If you're going to use your ocean territory as your engine of growth in the future you're going to have to do it in a climate friendly way."

The Paris negotiations go on until December 11th.