Despite more than 70 side events scheduled on the topic of oceans at the Blue COP, the ocean is still on the sidelines. However, with leadership from the small islands and other ocean-minded states, there is a movement afoot to chart a new course for the integration of the ocean-climate nexus into formal international climate negotiations going forward.
COP25 week 1 negotiations culminated in OCEANS DAY less than 24 hours after a sobering session by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding their findings on the state of the ocean and cryosophere (SROCC Report).
A few major takeaways from the 700+ page report include that (1) the ocean has been absorbing a significant amount of the world’s emissions and heat – and it is feeling the effects (2) the frozen regions of the Earth are warming, resulting in losing snow and ice at rates faster than the rest of the world (3) scientists predict that things are expected to get a lot worse and (4) adaption is available, however only to a certain point. The authors left us with the simple, yet profound message that our ocean and cryosphere sustain us, are under pressure and are changing, and affect all our lives. Thus, we must act now.
Despite this call to action, the negotiations seem to be moving at a pace slower than the rate glaciers are melting. Regardless of the pace, oceans are still not part of the actual negotiations at the Blue COP.
The ocean science reflected in the SROCC report sits on the sidelines of decisionmaking, in particular, because there are no formal negotiations pertaining to the ocean-climate nexus.
So while the youth use their voice to express concern over the loss of a world with vibrant coral reefs and Arctic wildlife like polar bears, the main issue—the global ocean— still does not have a seat at the formal negotiating table. For the past two years, ocean-minded nations have been working together to remedy this issue. The Ocean Pathway, co-chaired by Fiji and Sweden, works to create an “ocean inclusive” UNFCCC process.
Visionary leadership has emerged over the past week as ocean champions take action. No stranger to voyaging out ahead in uncharted waters, ocean-minded states are leading the effort to include oceans in the formal climate negotiations going forward. Indonesia, Fiji, Costa Rica, Seychelles, Panama, and Palau introduced a joint proposal to integrate issues relating the connection between oceans and climate change into the formal work of the UNFCCC. The proposal aims to highlight the ocean climate nexus and promote as well as ensure that ocean related issues are addressed in international climate negotiations.
It identifies three deadlines for action. First, it asks the Chair of Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to create a dialogue during the fifty-second session (June 2020) centered around the climate-ocean nexus and the most efficient arrangements for addressing these issues under the UNFCCC framework. Second, the proposal invites both parties and non-party stakeholders, and representatives from other international processes, to submit comments on this issue by March 21, 2020. Finally, the proposal asks for recommendations from SBSTA body for consideration during COP26 next year in Glasgow (November 2020).
As we welcome next week’s student delegation, we are delighted at the prospect of having a tangible way to contribute to the future of international climate negotiations, by using the power of our Vermont Law voice towards integrating oceans into the UNFCCC process. Negotiations are far from over, but the way ahead, and our role in contributing to international climate negotiations, is becoming more clear.