The ocean is the greatest unsung climate hero – it is the largest ecosystem on the planet and the most important carbon sink.
But ocean health is in jeopardy if we continue to misuse its carbon sink capacity as a buffer to atmospheric changes. The ocean has absorbed over 90% of the excess heat generated by humans since the industrial revolution, without which, it is estimated the Earth would be 35 degrees hotter. But these climate services are not merely chemical and physical reactions – they rely on a functioning ocean-carbon pump, which in turn relies on an ocean full of marine life, fish and healthy habitats.
Coastal and marine blue carbon ecosystems not only provide climate mitigation benefits, but are key to adaptation by acting as buffers against the impacts of extreme weather events and sea level rise. Similarly, managing healthy populations of fish and more complete marine food webs not only increases the ocean’s resilience in the face of climate change, it also reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by increasing sequestration and reducing emissions from the fishing fleet.
Keeping the ocean’s ecosystems functions intact to maintain its power to mitigate and adapt to climate change protects the livelihoods of millions of people around the globe living in coastal communities, especially those in coastal LDCs and SIDS.
Ocean extraction is clipping the wings of our climate hero with industrial and illegal fishing and mining, while overuse and development is degrading the strength of ocean life with noise, offshore development, pollution and shipstrikes. These issues are exacerbated by the provision of subsidies which perpetuate destructive fishing practices and promote fossil fuel burning.
Climate change acts as a threat multiplier to the oceans – it not only creates new problems in the ocean such as acidification, but it undermines the ocean’s capacity to deal with other impacts such as overfishing or pollution while also reducing the ocean’s capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change, thereby creating a dangerous feedback loop and downward spiral.
We therefore cannot talk about climate action without ocean action that also must include biodiversity protection and restoration. So ECO strongly and urgently welcomes the UNFCCC’s decision to hold an annual ocean and climate dialogue. But it’s a long walk to freedom – from simply acknowledging the ocean’s role in climate action, to prioritising and accelerating ocean climate action.
ECO knows we need to leverage the power of the ocean in the fight against climate change. To do this, we need to rapidly address the knowledge and process gaps such as carbon accounting methodologies for other marine ecosystems such as kelp forests, algae and protecting and managing key species such as whales and fish; we need to integrate and strengthen ocean-based action in existing agenda items and request the relevant Constituted Bodies of the UNFCCC to incorporate and act on ocean-related issues under their respective mandates. This includes encouraging nations to include ocean actions in their NDCs, NAPs and in the Global Stocktake. Moreover we need to increase investment into marine nature-based solutions through enhanced synergies on financing between the ocean and the climate agenda.