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The Ocean-Climate Nexus

Securing a stable atmosphere and a resilient ocean for future generations

The Ocean sustains all life on Earth. It produces half the oxygen every human being breathes, absorbs a quarter of all of the CO2 emitted by human activities, and captures approximately 90% of the anthropogenic heat added to the global system. Despite its’ crucial interconnectedness with the Earth’s atmosphere, it is only mentioned twice under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty regime. Beyond the climate treaty regime, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) contains provisions that may be applicable to ocean-climate issues, and Sustainable Development Goals 13 and 14 address the climate and the ocean, respectively. There is growing consensus that this disparate approach to the nexus between the ocean and the climate must be tackled, and at COP25 a joint proposal was accepted by the UNFCCC Secretariat for consideration of integrating the ocean-climate nexus into the formal climate negotiations at COP26 in November 2021. To maintain the health of the ocean, an ocean-climate strategy must address the risks and damages highlighted in the 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate while also accounting for the services the ocean provides. The pending climate negotiations place the ocean-climate nexus center stage and small island, big ocean states are the leaders for this ocean-climate strategy. Big ocean states already include the ocean in Nationally Determined Contributions and conduct blue carbon research.

From the Green Mountains to Small Islands

Tracking negotiations and conducting research in support of small island nations 


This 3-credit hybrid classroom/experiential course will examine the negotiation of international climate change agreements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Paris Agreement signaled the beginning of a new, universal approach to combatting climate change, and negotiations continue. Through tracking negotiations and working on interdisciplinary, client driven research projects, this course will provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental issues, negotiation process, and political dynamics of the international climate regime. Sitting at the intersection of science, law, and practice, the course engages collaborators across disciplines to build the climate literacy necessary for working in the ocean-climate nexus space.

Professor Reiter, Teaching Assistant Andrea Salazar, and the COP26 student delegates

Student delegates interact with practitioners (e.g., diplomats, lawyers, negotiators, members of the private sector, NGOs, scientists). The following examples demonstrate the dynamic, experiential nature of this service-based learning course and skills-based training for the students:
• Participation in a Climate Negotiation Training Workshop, mock negotiations, decoding treaty language, drafting treaty text, and live negotiations.
• Interdisciplinary research projects pertaining to operationalizing ocean commitments under the Paris Agreement (e.g., blue carbon research, climate financing, legal frameworks).
• Exposure to internships, externships, and post-graduate fellowships.