Climate Talks, COP21 - Paris, Oceans

Because The Ocean

This article is written by Nicolas Pinceloup.

On November 30th, next to the polar boat “TARA” and its robust and majestic shape, with the Eiffel tower in the background, a historical conference was held at the Tara Expedition Pavilion. Well-known political figures attended the conference such as the President of Palau, the President of Kiribati and one of the leaders of the fight for the recognition of the Ocean at the international level, Prince Albert II of Monaco, as well as  delegates and ministers of 10 countries (Canada, France, Fiji, Monaco, Chile, Mexico, Palau, Kiribati, Aruba, New Zealand), which signed a new declaration that brings hope for the other world: our océans.

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With COP21 starting in Paris and the emulation around the event, one could expect the oceans would be a major topic in the oncoming talks and negotiations. Disappointingly, they are not. In fact, oceans are mentioned only once with a really anthropocentric approach and utilitarian view in the article 4.1 (d) of the UNFCCC. In this article, oceans, coastal and marine ecosystems are defined with regard to their capacity to act as sink and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases (not controlled by the Montreal Protocol).

In fact, they are much more than just carbon sinks and the declaration Because the Ocean brings this perspective forward. Because the oceans are home to the majority of the biodiversity on Earth, because every second breath we take comes from the oceans, because it absorbs 90% of excess heat  and about 25% of all the CO2 emitted by human activities.

Prince Albert II of Monaco, first signatory of the Declaration "Because the Ocean...".
Prince Albert II of Monaco, first signatory of the Declaration « Because the Ocean… ».

The oceans are also our second hope, a new opportunity for biomass production, pharmaceutical products, renewable energies, jobs and innovations, new challenges and adventures and, finally, simply Because the Ocean . The declaration is articulated around three pillars:

1/ We pledge to support the proposal for a special Report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to address comprehensively the ocean/climate nexus.

2/ We reaffirm our commitment to reinforce Ocean resilience by meeting the targets agreed under the UN sustainable Development Goal #14 (SDG 14): Conserve and Sustainable Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development; with this in mind we express support for the convening of a high-level UN conference on Oceans and Seas in June 2017 in Fiji to promote the implementation and to maintain political momentum to SDG 14.

3/ We believe, in keeping with the sense of urgency, that it is high time to promote an Ocean action plan under the UNFCCC, starting in 2016, and we shall continue to meet as a group to address the challenges identified in this declaration, inviting the participation and input of other relevant processes and initiatives, within and outside the UN.

The civil society strongly supports this declaration and will continue to act for the recognition of the oceans in the UNFCCC, because this fight is also a quest for equality and for the poorest and most vulnerable.

However, there cannot be a “one size fit all” solution to the problem . The top-to-bottom approach to include the oceans in the UNFCCC will not solve everything and will not be implemented today or tomorrow but most likely (if it is) in the next two years with the next COP22 in Morocco and the conference on Oceans and Seas that will be hosted by Fiji in 2017.

There are already many challenges that need our attention today. Overfishing and illegal fishing, plastic pollution, coral bleaching, ocean acidification to name just some of them. Nevertheless, we can act today in order to encourage more education on the issue, better recognition at the international as well at the local level of the role played by the oceans to regulate the climate, but also a better knowledge of its role in shaping our cultures, economies and societies.

On the 3rd of December at COP21, oceans were the main topic of discussion throughout the day with many conferences occurring in the Climate Generation Area. Civil society hand in hand with key countries can and will succeed in putting the ocean in the agenda. We have our eyes on the future and look for Fiji, Sweden and Monaco’s leadership on this major issue.


About the author: Nicolas Pinceloup is working on a thesis on peatland plants diversity at the Université de Montréal, Québec. His primary interests are focused on ocean acidification and international negotiations on climate change.

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