Scientists call on COP26 leaders to listen to the ocean in order to meet climate goals

04 Nov 2021 | 146

New research published today on the eve of Ocean Day at COP26 says measures to address climate change will not succeed unless the ocean is taken into account.

A team of international experts is calling on leaders at the UNFCC COP26 to ensure the ocean is a key consideration in actions taken to mitigate impacts of climate change. The group, including the Marine Biological Association’s CPR Survey Senior Research Fellow, Professor Chris P. Reid, says “… the rate of climate change is still accelerating, largely linked to changes in the ocean, causing a continuing decline in nature, and disruption at the planetary scale to the environment, people, and all our futures.”

The paper titled “The forgotten ocean - why COP26 must call for vastly greater ambition and urgency to address ocean change sets out six important areas in which progress has to be made to integrate the ocean into climate action.  Lead author of the report, Professor Dan Laffoley, said “there simply isn’t time to waste. The changes we have already put into the ocean system will last for centuries and are making the climate crisis worse. Anything we can do now to help the ocean withstand the climate onslaught will in turn help us. Ocean protection is about human survival.”

The ocean absorbs over 90% of excess heat produced on our planet, compared to only about 3% absorbed by land, and it is also recognised as the largest carbon sink on Earth. However, these climate mitigating roles come at a cost, and damage the ocean’s capacity to function, while also creating feedback loops which exacerbate climate change. To date, the role of the ocean has largely been ignored by politicians when considering climate change.

Professor Reid explained “Since 1986 the heat content of the ocean has accelerated, increasing eight times as fast as the three prior decades. The consequences of this rapid change have been enormous, with more heat waves on land and in the ocean, forest fires, melting of permafrost and ice, and higher water content in the atmosphere leading to intense floods in all continents of the world. Sea level is also increasing rapidly from expansion due to the higher temperatures and from increasing inputs from melting ice. What all of this shows is that we can no longer forget the ocean, its ecosystems and carbon storage systems; they are crucial to human survival and need increased international protection and restoration.”

Published today in the peer reviewed journal, Aquatic Conservation, the authors call on leaders to urgently take action to protect the ocean “To turn the tide in favour of humanity and a habitable planet we need to recognize and better value the fundamental role that the ocean plays in the earth system, and prioritize urgent action needed to heal and protect it at the ‘Earthscape’ level – the planetary scale at which processes to support life operate.”

This paper identifies 6 proposals where progress must be made to integrate the ocean into climate action:

  1. Scale up solutions to an ‘Earthscape’ level – ambition must match the challenge
  2. Accelerate and integrate the efficacy of climate/biodiversity actions to achieve greater impact and effect
  3. Stop support for activities that damage the ocean - redirect incentives to positive outcomes for the planet
  4. Drive ocean recovery and restoration through enhanced global cooperation and momentum
  5. Highlight the connection between nature and global economics – value the ocean’s natural capital to invest in all our futures
  6. Deliver the science we need for a healthy, productive, and resilient ocean that benefits people and inspires humankind as a whole

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