Protecting Ocean Critical for Climate Action

UN Climate Change News, 14 April 2022 – In an address to the (link is external)
Our Ocean Conference
in Palau today, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa called on countries to strengthen efforts to protect oceans and coasts through their national climate action plans.

“The ocean has fed and sustained us for centuries, and we cannot continue to pollute and plunder it without regard to consequences,” said Ms. Espinosa.

For many people, the ocean is out of sight and out of mind but “the protection of the ocean is relevant and directly tied to all people on this planet,” she said. “So is addressing climate change.”

For example, protecting and restoring ocean habitats such as seagrasses and mangroves, along with their associated food webs, can sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at rates (link is external)
up to four times higher
than terrestrial forests can.

At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow last November, nations were reminded that they must not only submit their climate action plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement) they must make their current plans stronger.

These stronger plans need to be communicated as soon as possible to UN Climate Change so that when the next UN Climate Change Conference takes place in Egypt this November, the world can demonstrate that progress is being made and that the 1.5°C goal is still within reach.

At COP26, governments also permanently anchored the inclusion of strengthened ocean-based action under the UNFCCC multilateral process and established an annual dialogue on the ocean and climate change.

A major upcoming (link is external)
UN Ocean Conference
in June will also provide an opportunity to break down the siloes between ocean and climate decision making and propel much needed science-based solutions aimed at global ocean and climate action.

“We need your plans, we need your actions, and we need them now,” urged Ms. Espinosa.

See the full statement below:

It is a pleasure to join you today.

Like so many of us, I have travelled far to get to this beautiful location and to the warm welcome our gracious hosts have extended to us.

The majority of us here are mainlanders – we understand the importance of the ocean, but we are not of the ocean… like those who call Palau and this region home.

Here, the health of the ocean – and, by extension, the climate – is not a theoretical concept; it is a matter of life, of legacy, of memory, of prosperity, of generational inheritance and so much more.

Mainlanders often refer to small island states and low-lying regions as “being on the front lines” of climate change.

On one level this is true.

The low-lying costal zone is currently home to around 680 million people and is expected to reach more than 1 billion people by 2050.

Often missed, however, is the deeper message: that the protection of the ocean is relevant and directly tied to all people on this planet. So is addressing climate change.

Despite all the scientific and personal evidence of climate change, many still think of climate change as some distant challenge.

Keeping with this metaphor, it’s how humanity has too long thought about the ocean as well: that it was so big, so distant, that it couldn’t possibly be impacted by our pollution, our chemical poisons, our negligence.

Climate change is our existential emergency, far outweighing any immediate crisis we face. It is borderless and connects us all, regardless of geography.

That’s why we’re here.

Ladies and gentlemen, the six thematic areas this conference addresses reflect this interdependency and geographic connection…

… and each are key to not only repairing our oceans but directly tied to a more sustainable future.

Today, I’ll focus on one of those areas in particular: confronting the ocean-climate crisis and finding ocean solutions to climate change, as it directly impacts the work of the UNFCCC.

Mitigation and Adaptation

We recognize that the ocean is an enormous carbon sink and absorbs more than 90 per cent of the heat generated by climate change. But this nature-based solution is not limitless, as we clearly see in the increasing acidification of oceans and bleaching of coral reefs.

To repair the oceans that ultimately impact and are impacted by our climate, we must follow the science – which is clearly spelled out in the IPCC’s recent Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

As the IPCC tells us – we’re currently on track for a 3.2C rise in global temperature by the end of the century. We urgently need a course correction.

In addition to acting as carbon sink, the ocean offers enormous potential for other mitigation and adaptation solutions as well.

For example, as an (link is external)
article in Nature
recently pointed out, protecting and restoring ocean habitats such as seagrasses and mangroves, along with their associated food webs, can sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at rates up to four times higher than terrestrial forests can. This work can happen immediately.

In fact, nature-based solutions as a whole offer significant potential to help (link is external)
limit global warming
with the possibility of providing around 20% of the emissions reductions needed by 2050.

Renewable energy and, in particular, offshore wind energy has the potential to generate electricity well beyond our current demand.

The potential is there. We can do it. But we must work together to achieve it. We need a massive deployment of these technologies and access to them for all and specially the most vulnerable countries.

For this, one thing is needed above all else: political decisions made at the highest levels. We need them now and in multiple areas. If we continue with the current pace in our process, we will fail to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Let me focus on one specific area, however, as I close my remarks. I encourage Parties to strengthen ocean-climate action in their national climate action plans – known as the NDCs – and their National Adaptation Plans.

In Glasgow, nations were reminded that they must not only submit their plans – as many haven’t – they must make their current plans stronger.

And these stronger plans need to be communicated as soon as possible to the UNFCCC so that, in less than 7 months, when the Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh takes place, we can demonstrate to the world that progress is being made and that the 1.5 goal is still within reach.

Ladies and gentlemen, the solutions are not the problem – urgent action is the problem.

We need your plans, we need your actions, and we need them now.

Key Ask

In fact, I would like to invite all participants here today to do their utmost to ensure that the commitments made at this Our Oceans Conference are included in the NDCs and communicated to UN Climate Change directly.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ocean has fed and sustained us for centuries, and we cannot continue to pollute and plunder it without regard to consequences.

We are fast running out of time and excuses to get off the path we’re currently on. Nations must have the courage to do exactly that.

I believe there is still an opportunity to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green and blue, healthy, safe, and just – for all people, especially in the most remote and vulnerable parts of the world.

Thank you.

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