Making Waves for the Ocean at COP26

Celebrating wins for the ocean while calling for greater climate action

As I arrived in Glasgow in October for the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference COP26, along with leaders, advocates and activists from around the globe, it was clear the eyes of world were on us. In fact, at this critical moment for the climate and our ocean, there were literally more press credentials distributed than at any previous COP conference. The recent report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscored the urgency of action. Climate change is here and is bringing with it impacts like ocean acidification, sea level rise and dwindling sea ice. Time is running out.

The call-to-action for COP26 couldn’t be clearer: We must act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we want to save the ocean, planet and even the people we love.

Many of you joined the call with us and urged leaders to take ocean-based climate action. In the streets of Glasgow that call-to-action permeated the air: You could sense the cries from people around the world who want a better future for their communities, coasts and ocean.

Now, after time to reflect on the outcomes of the conference, we are both celebrating wins and calling for more action. A clear win is a decision that will lead to more ocean-based climate action and greater ambition. The Glasgow Climate Pact calls for an annual dialogue within existing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) bodies to strengthen ocean-based adaptation and mitigation, improve coordination and inform broader future actions.

This will ensure the ocean is integrated into important discussions and decisions at future COPs on climate change impacts, solutions and financing. The dialogue will provide opportunities to share lessons learned and challenges faced, as well as include ocean solutions in country commitments under the Paris Agreement.

This is a huge step forward towards recognizing the impacts of climate change on the ocean and the role ocean-based solutions can play in addressing the crisis.

It was great to finally see the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement and it demonstrated its commitment through multiple ocean announcements during the conference including joining the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. With this action, the U.S recognizes the ocean offers a wealth of opportunities to support our transition to a clean energy and a sustainable and equitable future, and joins a groups of global leaders willing to work collectively to make that a reality. They also joined Palau in challenging countries to ramp up ocean protections ahead of the Our Oceans Conference in February 2022, and announced that the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will advance to the designation phase.

COP26 sign

There were also exciting announcements moving us toward the goal of zero-emissions shipping – which is one of Ocean Conservancy’s top priorities – like the new Clydebank Declaration announced by the United Kingdom COP presidency. The declaration was signed by 22 countries that committed to establishing at least six green shipping corridors this decade. These green corridors will be zero-emission corridors that will help incentivize the development of more zero-carbon vessels by providing recharging stations and modern infrastructure. Back in April, Ocean Conservancy and our partners at Pacific Environment recommended the US establish green shipping corridors and it’s rewarding to see the U.S. join the Clydebank countries and take this step towards a zero emission shipping future.

The good news for clean shipping didn’t stop there, also during COP26, the U.S. and the World Economic Forum launched the First Movers Coalition, a grouping of 30 companies aimed at reducing emissions including those from international shipping. The United States also joined 14 countries in signing the Declaration on Zero Emission Shipping by 2050, committing to work towards zero emissions for shipping by 2050.

I am incredibly proud of how Ocean Conservancy’s work over the last several years supported many of these successes, and for how our whole team showed up to do this important work during COP26—hustling around the Scottish Event Campus speaking on panels, meeting with country delegations and spreading the word that ocean action is climate action.

Even with this progress on ocean-based climate action, there is more to be done.

COP26, unfortunately, did not result in the emissions reductions targets we need to protect the ocean and communities that rely on it. We failed to achieve the ambition needed to meet the 1.5- degree reduction targeted in the Paris Agreement, let alone the follow-through it takes to meet existing commitments. World leaders also failed to realize the pledge they made in 2009 to provide $100 billion in climate financing to lesser developed countries. This support is critical, especially in small island countries and vulnerable coastal communities that stand to lose everything as a result of climate change.


People dubbed COP26 the “City of Two Tales” because of a lack of access and how the view from inside the conference was so different from the outside. Although COVID-19 restrictions played a role in the increased inaccessibility of this year’s conference, the importance of better including people affected by climate change in COP decisions was clear. Inside, global leaders talked like they understood what’s at stake, side events highlighted success stories and launched new initiatives. Outside, youth and Indigenous activists gathered in the streets and held thoughtful demonstrations calling for leaders to not just talk, but to actually act in a way that will preserve our shared futures. There were drum circles, dance lines, projection battles, and countless social media impressions amplifying their unapologetic expectations of boldness. I’m hopeful that a more inclusive COP that ensures marginalized and disadvantaged communities are included and centered in decisions and discussions is not just possible but inevitable.

As I come home from Glasgow, I am celebrating our ocean wins while committing myself to the work we still need to do. We need to continue to push our leaders locally, nationally and internationally on climate action. We need the private sector to be a part of the solution, and all sectors must be held accountable for the actions they take to perpetuate this crisis as well as the commitments they make to solving it. We still have a lot of work to do to protect our ocean and address the climate crisis. I know Ocean Conservancy, as well as our supporters like you, will continue to rise to the challenge.

Our team is already back at work focused on the next big wins we can make for our ocean. You can learn more about our climate program here. 

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