Climate Change and the Ocean

Taking the ocean into account is critical for successfully addressing climate change, and addressing climate change is critical for the future of the ocean.

Outcomes of the Blue COP

COP25 Concludes with Progress on Ocean-Climate Action

By Gwynne Taraska

The 2019 U.N. climate summit (“COP25”) was a mixed success, to say the least. Countries failed to agree to the rules governing the use of carbon markets under the Paris Agreement, for example, which was a key goal of the summit. More broadly, there was disappointment in major economies, given the scale of climate action that is necessary and their blatant reluctance to commit to it.

One bright spot of the summit, however, was progress on ocean-climate action and diplomacy. In April, Chile—which held the COP25 presidency—decided that the summit would be a “Blue COP,” in recognition of the linkages between the ocean and climate change. This was significant given that the international climate effort has long overlooked ocean issues. It was unclear, however, whether COP25 would be successful as a Blue COP until its conclusion.

In the run-up to the summit, Ocean Conservancy outlined four potential outcomes that would help the Blue COP live up to its name. COP25 largely achieved each of these outcomes.

1. Ocean-climate commitments from leadership coalitions

A main component of COPs is the formal negotiations process. But there is also an extensive set of events outside the negotiations process, which often feature governments and stakeholders announcing commitments or reporting on progress. Commitments from leadership coalitions, for example, are important to set the standards for ambitious climate action and build political will.

At COP25, governments announced leadership coalitions that set the standards for integrated ocean-climate stewardship. Fiji and California, for example, soft-launched the Pacific Rim Ocean-Climate Action Partnership (PROCAP) with Costa Rica, Peru, and Panama on 9 December 2019. Members of this partnership are working to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions; increase ocean-specific climate solutions, such as protecting blue carbon ecosystems and reducing emissions from shipping; and enhance the resilience of ocean ecosystems and communities on the front lines of ocean and climate change.

Similarly, a bipartisan and bicoastal coalition of U.S. states detailed their commitment to ocean-climate stewardship and highlighted the ocean impacts of climate change to their communities and economies. They also demonstrated that U.S. nonfederal actors continue to confront the climate crisis despite the fact that the U.S. administration is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Ocean Conservancy is pleased to have supported PROCAP and the statement from U.S. states, and we look forward to their progress in 2020.

2. Progress toward integrating ocean issues into the UNFCCC

It would have been difficult to justify COP25 as a Blue COP without an ocean outcome from the negotiations process. The final COP25 text, however, includes the first ever section on ocean-climate action in a COP decision.

Since 2018, the “Friends of the Ocean and Climate” countries—which include Fiji, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Sweden, Norway, and others—have worked to better integrate ocean issues into the processes of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In October, Fiji, Indonesia, and Costa Rica proposed text for inclusion in the COP25 decision and consulted with a wide range of parties to the UNFCCC on its acceptability.

There were nevertheless roadblocks to its adoption due to parties such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the European Union. Core elements of the proposal, however, survived into the final text. These include the creation of dialogue in June 2020 so countries can discuss how to strengthen ocean-climate action in the context of the UNFCCC; an invitation for submissions from parties and non-party stakeholders to inform the dialogue; and a request for the Chair of the technical body of the UNFCCC to report on its outcomes.

Although the final text is somewhat weaker than the Friends of the Ocean and Climate had hoped—it omitted earlier language specifying that the report is to include recommendations for future work, for example—it creates a solid foundation to begin integrating ocean issues into the UNFCCC. Ocean Conservancy is proud to have supported the Friends of the Ocean and Climate with technical expertise on the negotiations and text throughout its formulation and finalization.

3. Ocean-climate announcements from individual governments

In 2020, countries are supposed to come forward with their second round of national climate goals (known as “nationally determined contributions,” or “NDCs”) under the Paris Agreement. Friends of the Ocean and Climate are hoping to see countries increase their overall climate ambition—given that dramatically reducing emissions is the single most important thing for the ocean—and also incorporate ocean issues into their climate goals. There was progress on this front at COP25, with Belize, Seychelles, Costa Rica, and others discussing how they will be taking the ocean—and blue carbon in particular—into account in their NDCs. To support countries in these efforts, Chile has launched a Platform for Science-Based Ocean Solutions, to provide guidance materials.

Meanwhile, U.S. states also announced their work confronting the ocean and climate crises. The Pacific Coast Collaborative—which includes Washington, Oregon, California, and British Columbia—detailed its progress addressing ocean acidification and increasing the resilience of coastal communities in its new guide “Models for Ocean-Climate Action along the Pacific Coast of North America,” which it released at COP25 to serve as a global example of ocean-climate action.

4. An extensive “blue program”

Historically, countries have siloed ocean and climate issues, both within their own ministries and in international fora. It was therefore important to have an extensive set of ocean-related events at the summit to raise awareness of ocean-climate linkages.

Countries and a range of nongovernmental organizations ensured that there was a robust “blue program” at COP25. It is striking that there were ultimately more than 90 ocean-related events at the summit. Ocean Conservancy is pleased to have supported the Chilean presidency by tracking ocean events and compiling them into a blue program for the COP25 site. A selection of these events is on the Ocean Conservancy COP25 landing page.

Fully integrating ocean issues into the global climate effort will require a significant amount of work in the coming years. But the untiring efforts of key ocean-climate champions—including countries, U.S. states, and nongovernmental actors—ensured that COP25 was justifiable as a Blue COP and created a foundation for future COPs to be ocean-inclusive.

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