By Student Delegate Andrea Salazar
The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), on December 2, convened a dialogue on Ocean and Climate Change to consider how to strengthen adaptation and mitigation actions. Although mention of COVID-19’s effects on the world were mentioned by almost every speaker during the high-level plenary, this did not distract from the task at hand.
The dialogue focused on an in-depth review of up-to-date climate-ocean science. The main drivers of ocean damage from climate change—hypoxia (a lack of oxygen), acidification (from absorbing GHGs like CO2 which creates H2CO3 or Carbonic Acid) and climate warming were discussed in detail. The effects of these drivers are devastating. For example, hurricanes were cited for having recently hit Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua and Colombia back-to-back. These drivers also affect sea level rise, and the warming causes glacier melt. At higher temperatures, oxygen has trouble dissolving in water, at the same time aquatic creature metabolisms increase in hot water—this leads to dead-zones of the ocean where there is no oxygen. Hypoxia can kill fish which people depend on for sustenance and livelihood.
Hans-Otto Portne and Elvira Poloczanska of the IPCC Working Group II revealed that their studies show little hope for warm water coral reefs. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists continue to communicate the science, which projects, with a certain degree of certainty, that coral reefs are highly at-risk. The risk of losing 70 to 90% of coral reefs is present even if climate contributions under the Paris Agreement succeeded to keep the climate temperature increase to the more ambitious target of 1.5 C degrees. At an increase of 2 C degrees, there is a likelihood of losing 99% of all coral reefs. So, even if the Paris Agreement is successful, we will still likely lose 99% of all coral reefs.
During the open floor discussion, the EU, Canada, and several NGOs implored that States have ambitious mitigation strategies without mention of adaptation. In light of the state of the ocean, New Zealand emphasized that mitigating emissions was the most important course of action. While New Zealand’s most recent Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) is direct about New Zealand’s GHG reduction targets. However, the NDC fails to provide the level of transparency found in other NDCs. Despite this concern, the response to COVID in New Zealand indicates it can mobilize rapidly during a crisis. A more robust NDC would be of benefit to developed and developing states alike, to serve as an example for prioritizing mitigation, while, in parallel, addressing adaptation.