From the President's Desk

With COP25 attention to oceans, there is hope for coastal communities

Dr. Ricketts speaking at a COP25 event.

While the 1920s were known as the “Roaring Twenties,” it’s likely that the 2020s will be known as the “Roasting Twenties.” The devastating effects of climate change are all around us, but as we recognize another World Oceans Day we can reflect on one area of considerable success resulting from the COP25 meeting held in Madrid last December; and that success gives me hope for coastal communities like ours.

For the first time since the one-word reference to oceans was added to the preamble of the Paris Agreement at COP 21 in 2015, the final COP25 outcomes document contained recognition of the role of oceans in climate change – the oceans-climate change nexus – and highlighted the importance of the ocean as an integral part of the Earth’s climate system. It stated there is a necessity to ensure the integrity of marine and coastal ecosystems in the context of climate change.

The COP25 negotiations have resulted in a clear recognition of the need to incorporate oceans into the core elements of climate change science, mitigation, and adaptation.

While it seems incredible that it has taken this long, it is a breakthrough for the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC). The inclusion of these ocean references is the result of many years of hard work to get oceans just recognition in climate change negotiations.

The Global Oceans Forum has organized Ocean Action Days at COP since COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and has spearheaded intense efforts since to build global support to incorporate oceans into the UNFCC.

The effort led to the development of other collaborative oceans initiatives such as Because the Ocean, the Marrakech Partnership, the Ocean Pathway Partnership, and Friends of the Oceans, to name a few.

The number of ocean-related events at COP meetings has grown from one in 2009 to a handful in the last few years, and more than 100 at COP 25. Indeed, under the presidency of Chile, COP 25 was dubbed the Blue COP to ensure that oceans would get just recognition in the formal negotiations.

These efforts were given an enormous boost by the scientific report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on oceans and cryosphere, which lays out the scientific evidence for the linkage between oceans and climate change, and highlights the urgency of prioritizing timely, ambitious and coordinated action to address unprecedented and cumulative changes that are occurring in the ocean as a direct result of global warming. Canada’s COP delegation strongly supported the substantive references to oceans in initial drafts of the COP25 document. Other countries concurred, such as Portugal, Japan, Sweden, Chile, and small island developing nations like Fiji, which face obliteration from sea level rise and coral destruction from ocean acidification.

The inclusion of those references in the final text has significant implications for future COP meetings and the upcoming UN Oceans Conference in Lisbon. No longer will this conference, only the second such event, be focused solely on the Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life below Water), it will also be an essential venue to prepare for ocean-related negotiations at the next COP, set for Glasgow in November 2020.

Also the COP 25 document requests the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (one of two permanent subsidiary bodies to the Convention established by the COP) to convene a dialogue on ocean and climate change to consider how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action in this context at its next session.

This action is good news for ocean countries like Canada, and especially for Atlantic Canada, given our dependence upon the ocean waters that surround us and the enormous impacts that they have upon our livelihoods and our prosperity. With such incidences increasing due to climate change, we can only hope that the oceans breakthrough at COP25 will lead to stronger efforts to combat climate change and help communities most impacted adapt and build their resilience to the effects of our warming planet. In a year when we have had little to celebrate, perhaps World Oceans Day 2020 is one time we can have hope for a better tomorrow.

Dr. Peter Ricketts
Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Dr. Peter Ricketts is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Acadia University and a professor of Earth and Environmental Science. In December 2019, he chaired a panel called “Ocean Science to Action for Adaptation and Displacement Solutions” at the Oceans Action Day held at the COP 25 in Madrid.

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