The ocean plays a crucial role in shaping the Earth’s climate and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Through the process of ocean circulation, it redistributes heat and nutrients around the planet, influencing weather patterns and supporting marine ecosystems. The global ocean has bought humanity valuable time by absorbing over 90% of the excess heat resulting from historical emissions. But this has come at an enormous expense to marine ecosystems, which increasingly suffer the consequences. The Ocean is greatly affected by climate change, with rising temperatures leading to coral bleaching, sea-level rise, and altered marine habitats. Additionally, increased carbon dioxide levels are causing ocean acidification, threatening the health of marine life and ecosystems.
The complex interplay between the ocean and climate change highlights the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, protect marine biodiversity, and ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our planet. And time is running out. Environmental organizations once again stressed that we cannot keep waiting for meaningful ocean-climate actions and the Ocean & Climate Dialogue presents one, possibly critical, opportunity to rectify this lack of commitment.
Emerging of the Ocean and Climate change Dialogue
UNFCCC as the place to address ongoing climate crises, including cross-cutting issues (such as Ocean itself) was long time seen as the right place to talk on how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation within the ocean-climate nexus.
It was at Madrid Climate Conference (2019), called the “Blue COP”, that the specific process for such discussion was proposed to be established. Among ocean-related decisions taken by Parties, the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was requested “to convene at its fifty-second session (June 2020) a dialogue on the ocean and climate change”. This step provided the necessary support for institutionalizing ocean-climate action in international climate negotiations.
The first Dialogue was held online in December 2020, allowing parties to discuss a need for Ocean action following the conclusions from the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere. The next year at COP26 it was decided that starting from 2022 the Dialogue will be held annually. Following the successful second Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue in June 2022 held in person, COP27 later the same year further clarified the modalities and process of the Dialogue. At COP27, Parties decided that the ocean dialogue will be facilitated by two co-facilitators, who will be responsible for choosing the topics and conducting the dialogue, in consultation with Parties and observers, and preparing an informal summary report to be presented in conjunction with the subsequent session of the Conference of the Parties.
Preparations for the 2023 Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue
Following the consultations with stakeholders in March 2023, co-facilitators proposed two topics for this year Dialogue: 1. Coastal ecosystem restoration including blue carbon, and 2. Fisheries and food security.
Earlier civil society organisations stressed that the Dialogue should set concrete, action-oriented goals and address the most relevant and pressing issues of the ocean-climate nexus with a clear focus on mainstreaming ocean-climate action within the UNFCCC and other UN bodies, drawing upon and integrating existing ocean-related outcomes, workstreams and processes of relevant other bodies under the UNFCCC, addressing knowledge, capacity and process gaps and identifying means of implementation.
These messages were also at the center of the discussions at ocean-related side events in Bonn, which preceded the Dialogue. At the side-event “Ocean-climate progress in the Global Stocktake and synthesizing environmental and social impacts of related solutions”, co-organized by Ecoaction, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, CAN, and other partners, panelists discussed the necessity of ocean-climate actions. Speakers highlighted the need to holistically integrate such actions into national approaches and the lack of ocean integration across UNFCCC processes, including the GST. Discussion also called for a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of ocean-based climate solutions, suggesting a shift towards systems-informed decision-making, which values transdisciplinary system thinking and encourages multi-system collaboration among decision-makers.
In the “Ocean dialogue 2023 information note” the co-facilitators proposed a solution-focused discussion and invited Parties to consider the guiding questions in their preparations for the ocean dialogue.
Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue in 2023
This year the Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue took place on 13-14th of June as part of the SB58 Bonn Climate Change Conference.
The 2023 Dialogue itself demonstrated inclusivity by welcoming input from parties, civil society, scientists, and academics, who were present at the event and participated in the breakout discussions in small groups on the first day of the Dialogue. Participants followed the proposed guiding questions published on the UNFCCC platform before the Dialogue (available here), focusing on how parties can address questions emerging within both topical areas.
However, the lack of attendance and input from Parties in some workshops was also notable, despite the ocean’s crucial role in the global climate system. Of course, with the deadlock in negotiations and bilaterals elsewhere, Parties with small delegations struggle to attend such mandated events. UNFCCC must support Parties, especially those on the front line of the ocean crisis, to be presented and be heard.
Graphic recording of the 2023 Dialogue discussions on topic 1 ”Coastal ecosystem restoration, including blue carbon” (Source: ocean-climate.org)
On the second day reports from the break-out groups were presented, as well as case studies of the best practices for mitigation and adaptation. Climate Action Network had an opportunity to make an intervention of behalf of the civil society organizations, mentioning among other the following:
- the need to include a broader public in the process, to hear those who were not present in the room, including local communities, and parties with small delegations and conflicting itineraries;
- biodiversity protection and restoration should be placed at the heart of ocean action, alongside with the urgent fossil fuel phase-out;
- the need for greater ambition from Parties on protecting and restoring blue carbon ecosystems must be reflected in the Global Stocktake, recognising vulnerability along with their mitigation and adaptation benefits;
- process gaps such as ocean carbon accounting and governance methodologies should be rapidly addressed.
Sofia Sadogurska (Ecoaction) making the Intervention at the second day of the Dialogue on behalf of CAN organizations
Another important message, highlighted also in other interventions and speeches, was that the Dialogue should request other relevant UN bodies collaborate and act on Ocean-related issues. Several voices in the room also strongly noted the potentially hugely destructive practices on the horizon, such as ocean-based carbon dioxide removal (OCDR) and deep-sea mining, which could commence within months with disastrous consequences for biodiversity throughout the water column, along with the release of incredible amounts of safely stored carbon.
What is next?
With so many topics to cover in the ocean space, there is never enough time to cover them all. We do however, need increasing visibility and action on areas such as ocean acidification and deoxygenation. Those problems should be addressed under the UNFCCC mandate as a climate change consequences with workstreams to identify knowledge, capacity, and process gaps to strengthen coordination of ocean acidification-related activities.
Once again, following the discussion at the SB58, it seems that the Dialogue is also the right place also to identify the emerging issues in the context of ocean-climate action, such as ocean-based geoengineering and OCDR, to be dealt with in the future sessions of the dialogue series.
The Ocean and Climate Change Dialogues are a great effort, but we need a clear path from dialogue to action that includes better integration with other relevant UNFCCC processes. Means of implementation must be put in place with the clear message from the Dialogue to COP28 to move from welcome dialogue to meaningful action.
The final co-facilitators informal summary report will hopefully convey clear messages to COP28, advocating for biodiversity protection and restoration objectives, ocean inclusion in the global climate agenda, and concrete actions to address the ocean crisis, including acidification and deoxygenation.
The article is based on the materials prepared for the SB58 by the CAN Ocean sub-group