Climate Conference in Madrid: finally a “Blue COP”?

© Samuel Bollendorff / Fondation Tara Océan

It all started in Paris… For at least five years, several NGOs have been working with scientists to convince negotiators to include the ocean in the context of actions taken to face climate change. At the COP21 in Paris in 2015, the Tara Ocean Foundation and the Ocean and Climate Platform achieved unprecedented citizen and political mobilisation in favor of the ocean. This contributed to finally mentioning the ocean in a major climate text: the Paris Agreement. Four years later, the Chilean and Spanish governments — co-organizers of the current COP25 in Madrid (from December 2 to 13) — have promised us a “Blue COP”. But what does this actually mean?

TARA IN PARISTara in Paris in 2015 for the COP21 © Julien Girardot / Tara Ocean Foundation

Climate is historically “green”

It’s not simple to put the ocean on the agenda in negotiations for implementation of the Paris Agreement. Why? First, because climate negotiations have historically worked on the issue of energy: the central axis of the ecological transition to an economy based on renewable energy instead of hydrocarbons. Second, because the commitments made in Paris by each nation only marginally contain actions for the ocean. Speaking about the ocean is not yet a priority for the experts of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. But gradually things are changing. With the recent Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere, published by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in September 2019, ocean science is now on the agenda of climate specialists. Based on an in-depth review of more than 7,000 scientific publications, the report stresses the urgency of prioritizing rapid, ambitious and coordinated action to address unprecedented changes in the ocean and their impact on human populations.

Impacts on all marine biodiversity, from viruses to fish

Experts emphasize that the combined effects of rising temperatures, acidification and deoxygenation of the ocean, as well as changes in nutrient availability, will have a significant negative impact on almost every form of marine life, from bacteria to fish, viruses and algae. Such changes can have an overall impact on how oceans contribute to the equilibrium of global ecosystems, as they provide “ecosystemic services” including carbon cycle regulation and oxygen production. They can also have a direct impact on coastal communities, including rising sea level, changes in salinity, and loss of coral reefs and mangroves. Such widespread, profound and rapid changes will eventually be detrimental to the blue economy, jeopardizing food security, notably through the loss of fishing stocks.

Time to take action!

After this important IPCC report, which provides a scientific basis for actions concerning the ocean, we now expect much more from national governments. The timing also seems appropriate from a technical point of view since the argument about giving priority to issues of financing and implementation of the Paris Agreement is no longer acceptable. With the approval of the  “Rulebook” at the last COP24 in Poland, only the famous article 6 (concerning the revival of the carbon market) remains on the table. So, a line of action is now possible, particularly through the NDCs (nationally determined contributions), which must be revised upward in 2020 at COP26.

A book of concrete recommendations — “Because the Ocean”

For the Tara Ocean Foundation and the “ocean community”, Madrid must be a Blue COP, because this is our last chance to convince the heads of state, ministers and delegations of the need to include measures concerning the ocean in their next “package” of measures. With the Because the Ocean Initiative (launched in 2015 by the Tara Ocean Foundation, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, and IDDRI) which today includes 39 signatory nations, we present a guiding document aimed at accelerating the action. The Ocean for Climate report was produced by the secretariat of Because the Ocean after 3 regional workshops. It presents concrete proposals for action in several areas, including mitigation (reduction of greenhouse gases), adaptation to renewable marine energy, and actions to advance scientific research.

A cry of alarm: the invisible impact on plankton

In Madrid, the Tara Ocean Foundation teams are also working specifically to highlight an “invisible victim” of climate change: plankton. Last November, 2 scientific publications published in the journal Cell confirm the growing impact of climate change on planktonic ecosystems. These 2 publications, written by the Tara Oceans Consortium, confirm that changes in temperature, pH and oxygen in the polar regions will impact plankton in these regions more than in the tropics. This “invisible majority” made up of microorganisms is virtually unknown, and above all, is almost totally ignored by climate decision-makers. And yet these organisms account for nearly 80% of ocean life and play a major role for the climate. In Madrid, during Ocean Day activities on December 7th, the Tara Ocean Foundation will present a Policy Brief aimed at alerting experts and negotiators on this major issue that is still almost unknown.

RS_Policy_brief_TaraOceanFoundation_Plankton_WEB

Since the COP21 in Paris, it’s important to remember that we’ve come a long way: Today the voice of the ocean is finally being heard. With the Ocean and Climate Platform and Because the Ocean, we can be proud of the work accomplished. But the limited framework of the Climate Convention and the inertia of its technical entities remain obstacles to action. It is high time to break down barriers between scientists and decision-makers, between biologists and climatologists. We must draw up an “Ocean and Climate Action Plan” to meet these challenges. The ocean needs it!

by André ABREU, Director of International Policies, Tara Ocean Foundation

Related articles