What the IPCC Report Says About Our Ocean

To protect our ocean from climate change, we must act now

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has sounded the alarm on climate change since their first report in 1990. Their reports provide policymakers with the information they need, like those in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) who set the ambition for global climate action. This week the IPCC released the AR6 Synthesis Report, and the message is clear: To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to drastically cut emissions. 

This set of reports, written as part of the present Sixth Assessment Report cycle, paint a clear picture of the current state of knowledge on climate change causesimpacts, adaptations and emission-reduction solutions. Each IPCC report gives us more insights into how our ocean is changing, how those changes might impact the wildlife and communities that depend on it, and the options for ocean-based climate solutions. 

How is climate change impacting our ocean? 

Simply put, climate change is putting the ocean at risk in more drastic ways than we’ve ever seen before. Here’s a look at findings in the latest IPCC report on the impact of climate change on our ocean: 

  • The reports find that climate impacts are already widespread, rapid and intensifying. We know human influence has caused this warming in the atmosphere, ocean and land.
  • Planet Earth has already warmed more than 1 degree Celsius. Even with the international commitments made in November at COP27 in Egypt, we are still on track to see 2.1-2.9 degrees of warming by 2100. 
  • If global warming exceeds warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040, irreversible impacts will occur in ecosystems with low resilience including polar, mountain and coastal ecosystems.
  • The ocean is getting warmer, becoming more acidic and losing oxygen at a faster rate than ever recorded—so fast that species, including humans, may not be able to adapt to these changes.
  • There is high confidence that climate change has already caused irreversible losses in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open-ocean marine ecosystems. Projected climate change, in combination with other drivers, like unsustainable development, will cause further loss by 2040 of much of the world’s forests, coral reefs and low-lying coastal wetlands as well as the biodiversity they contain.
  • As many as 3.6 billion people are already highly vulnerable to climate change with at least 1 billion at risk from coastal-specific climate hazards. By 2040, continued and accelerating sea-level rise will encroach on coastal communities and infrastructure and submerge and destroy low-lying coastal ecosystems. These risks rapidly increase in the mid- and long- terms if warming continues.
  • Food security, food safety and supply chains are already at risk from climate change. Risks to food security and safety will be compounded by increasing contamination of seafood from harmful algal blooms, mycotoxins and chemical contaminants.

How can we protect our ocean in the face of climate change? 

The ocean is both a victim of climate impacts and a vital part of climate solutions. Robust science is critical to understanding the opportunities to slow the effects of climate change and give the ocean and coastal ecosystems and communities time to adapt. Here are some key findings in the latest report on ocean climate solutions

  • Adaptation planning and implementation have increased globally; however, there is a significant gap between current levels and what is needed to respond to and reduce climate impacts. Filling this gap requires transformational shifts in investment and implementation for climate resilience.
  • Near-term mitigation and adaptation actions can decrease the extent and severity of predicted climate impacts. 
  • The global economic benefit of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius is expected to be higher than the cost of staying below 2 degrees. There are relatively low-cost mitigation options available now, including solar and wind energy, energy efficiency and natural ecosystem conservation that could cut global emissions in half by 2030.
  • Coastal ecosystems, called “blue carbon” ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses) store significant amounts of carbon. These carbon stocks are difficult to restore once lost, and the loss rates of salt marsh and seagrasses (the most common blue carbon ecosystems in the United States) are still uncertain.
  • Deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is essential to get to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions due to residual emissions from certain sectors. There are different methods for CDR, including some that rely on the ocean. It is unfortunate to note, however, that there most methods are not widely used.

The IPCC sixth assessment reports rely on the best available science to show our future if we don’t act now. Urgent and equitable climate action is needed at all scales from international to national to local. As of 2022, 61% of Americans believe it is not too late to act on climate. Only 12% of Americans doubt climate change is happening. This means Americans take climate change seriously. We have hope. 

Conserving our ocean, coasts and the communities that depend on them is critical to a brighter climate future.  At Ocean Conservancy, we’re working to bring the power of the ocean to the global fight against climate change. We are advancing ocean climate solutions from green shipping to coastal restoration to clean ocean energy. You can take action to call for ocean climate solutions here. 

Browse Topics
Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
Read more
View Current Posts
Back to Top Up Arrow