Climate change is commonly discussed as though it’s a uniquely atmospheric phenomena. However, the crisis is deeply intertwined with oceans and has been largely overlooked in international climate negotiations.
The latest international climate negotiations have made some progress, and for the first-time, anchoring oceansPermanently into multilateral climate change regime But the Glasgow Climate PactIt is still a long way from being able to accurately reflect the importance of oceans for our climate system.
Most countries have targets for land-based emissions – but there are no such targets for oceans. Yet the ocean plays a vital role in helping balance the conditions humans and most other species need to survive, while also offering a substantial part of the solution to stop the planet warming over the crucial limit of 1.5℃ this century.
How can the oceans help us address the climate crisis? What has been the progress in international negotiations?
The ocean’s incredible potential
The ocean has taken in more people since industrialization. 93% of human-generated heat one-third of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO₂). This has profound consequences, including ocean acidification and thermal expansion of water, which is the main cause of sea level rising. deoxygenation(oxygen loss), and forcing marine animals to redistribute their oxygen to other places.
Alarmingly, this may one day lead the ocean to reverse its role as a carbon sink and release CO₂ back into the atmosphereAs its absorption capacity declines, it will decrease.
Important as well is ocean-based climate mitigation. This could provide important benefits. more than 20% of the emissions reductions needed for the 1.5℃ goal.
We must see improvements in the maritime industries. The shipping industry alone has a similar carbon footprint to Germany – if shipping were a country it would be the world’s sixth-largest emitter. Although not high on the list of “highest emitters”, International Maritime Organisation’s agenda, decarbonisation of shipping still lacks adequate targets or processes.
The oceans can also provide climate-safe and sustainable food options. Current food systems such as fishing and emissions-intensive agriculture are responsible. one-third of global emissions. Considerable environmental (and health) benefits can be gained by shifting our diets to sustainable “blue foods”.
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These seafoods are sourced from sustainable fisheries that use sustainable management practices such as avoiding overfishing or reducing carbon emissions. The large-scale production and consumption, as well as the technology and markets for aquatic plants like seagrasses, should be considered.
There’s also a wealth of opportunity in “blue carbon” – capturing CO₂ in the atmosphere by conserving and restoring marine ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes. A healthy ocean ecosystem is crucial for the success of nature-based solutions. Concerns are being raised about the possible negative effects of plastic pollution on plankton’s ability to absorb CO₂.
Perhaps the most important impact would be from using offshore renewable energy. This has the potential of offering a lot. one-tenth of the emissions reductions we need to reach the 1.5℃ goal. According to the International Energy Agency offshore wind could generate a lot of electricity. power the world 18 times over its current consumption rate.
Climate talks are slow moving
Since more than a decade, inclusion of oceans into climate talks has been inconsistent and fragmented. Talk has centered on the potential of coastal areas to adapt climate change impacts like sea-level rise in negotiations, including at COP26. in 1989By small islands states.
The final COP26 Agreement, also known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, made some slight progress.
The importance of ensuring the security of the pact was recognized by the pact ocean ecosystem’s integrity. It established the “the Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue” as an annual process to strengthen ocean-based action. And it invited UNFCCC bodies to consider how to “integrate and strengthen ocean-based action into existing mandates and workplans” and report back.
While these are positive measures, at this stage they don’t require action by parties. Therefore, they’re only a theoretical inclusion, not action-oriented.
We lack clear, international, mandatory targets for countries to consider sinks, source, and activities beyond the shoreline in climate planning and reporting.
COP26’s progress was in its focus on whether or not ocean impacts and mitigation will finally be included in the mainstream climate agenda. A new COP26 document was adopted for the first time in five year. “Because the Ocean” declarationwas released. It calls for the inclusion of oceans in the UNFCCC/Paris Agreement process.
What should we do?
What’s now needed is a list of mandated requirements that ensure countries report on and take responsibility for climate impacts within their maritime territories.
But as COP26 president Alok Sharma said of the summit as a whole, it was a “fragile win”. We lack consistency with existing mechanisms such as the COP26. law of the sea conventionHow funding will be allocated to the oceans.
As such, it is not clear what the actual impact of COP26 will be on oceans and climate action. It will depend on how UNFCCC bodies respond and whether they succeed in extending obligations for state parties.
To respond to the climate crisis, we must stop pretending that the atmosphere and the ocean are separate. We must include ocean action in climate action routinely.
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This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage on COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.
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