Ocean and Climate News

July 1, 2021

© Yugraj Yadava

Welcome to the July 2021 issue of the Ocean and Climate News. This issue covers the recent UN ICP meeting on sea level rise and its impacts; UN Ocean Decade and other news from IOC-UNESCO; ocean events and other news related to the upcoming Glasgow climate conference (UNFCCC COP26), and the sinking of a cargo ship off the coast of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The oil is still on board, but experts believe it is likely to spill…

The X-Press Pearl cargo ship caught fire in the Sri Lanka territorial waters off Negombo, a suburb of Colombo, the nation’s capital in late May. While the Sri Lankan Navy was trying to haul the ship to deeper water, it sunk and now the front section is on the ocean floor. The ship was carrying chemicals, nitric acid, 350 tons of fuel oil and 78 tons – allegedly over 3 billion micro-plastic pellets, all of which spilled into the water and washed up on to the beaches. It is believed that the ingestion of plastic pellets from the cargo ship is associated with the death of turtles, dolphins, sharks and whales which had washed ashore.

The oil is still on board, but experts believe it is likely to spill, with monsoon winds which may cause the wreck to move. Apart from the disastrous impacts to the marine environment, the socio-economic impacts are also serious because fisheries and tourism are major revenue-earning sectors in the country. Nearshore fishing is now banned, and fishers have lost their livelihood, and the tourist establishments that dot the west coast are also deeply affected.

Care should be taken in deciding whether the ship should be moved or not because of the possibility of oil spillage. If the oil does spill, the disaster will not only affect the Sri Lankan marine environment but also impact neighboring countries. A preventive measure could start with government review of procedures for allowing shipping vessels entry into the ports, including greater communication with neighboring countries such as India which had denied this ship from entering its ports due to reports that it was damaged. For more information about this story, see recent reports here and here. – Indumathie Hewawasam, Sustainable Oceans and Coasts and GOF

ICP-21 Focuses on Sea Level Rise and Its Impacts

The twenty-first meeting of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (ICP) took place virtually from 14 to 18 June 2021. The participants of the meeting, which focused on sea-level rise and its impacts, heard from expert presenters about the latest scientific projections relating to sea-level rise, the impacts of sea-level rise, and the associated scientific, socio-economic and legal challenges, as well as adaptation measures.

According to the information provided, the global mean sea level has been rising since 1993 at a mean rate of 3.1 ± 0.3 mm per year, and the rise is accelerating by approximately 0.1 mm per year. There is a strong regional variability in the rates of sea level change, with rates in some regions up to 2–3 times higher than the global mean.

The largest contributions to rising future global mean sea level are expected from ocean warming and resulting thermal expansion, and from melt water flows from glaciers and Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets. Major uncertainties in estimating future sea level rise are due to the contribution of melt water from the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the extent of future carbon dioxide emissions.

This has major implications for the more than 600 million people living in coastal areas beneath the 10-m contour, and to some of the world’s biggest cities and ports located on the coast. Impacts of sea level rise will be felt by all coastal States but will be particularly severe in low lying coastal and island States. These impacts raise social and economic concerns, as well as concerns relating to international law. International cooperation will be required at all levels to respond to these challenges.

Negative impacts include a dramatic increase in flood risk from storm surges and tidal flooding. There is evidence of increased coastal flooding, coastal erosion and saline intrusion which is affecting agriculture and aquaculture and causing loss of habitats. Climate change, including sea-level rise, is a barrier to sustainable development and will push many atolls to the brink of habitability in the second half of the 21st century. It has the potential to affect millions of people around the globe through loss of livelihoods, infrastructure and homes, and through displacement and increased risk of statelessness linked to the theoretical physical disappearance of states. Entire communities on low-lying islands (including Kiribati, Maldives and Tuvalu) have nowhere to retreat within their islands.

At the ICP, Pacific small island developing States (SIDS) raised the importance of preserving maritime claims that have been established under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the face of sea-level rise. The loss of maritime entitlements due to sea level rise and coastal erosion was not contemplated when UNCLOS was negotiated, and thus there is a need to address the legal questions that would preserve maritime limits once they have been established. This was one of the priority issues highlighted by Pacific SIDS. More about the ICP is available here. – Marjo Vierros, Coastal Policy and Humanities Research and GOF

The Ocean Decade Endorsed Actions

The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030 (‘The Ocean Decade’) unveiled its first set of officially endorsed Actions. The Actions were subject to a competitive selection process with hundreds of applications, with the endorsement reflecting each Action’s focus on innovation, transdiciplinary approach and inclusivity in accelerating the generation and uptake of ocean knowledge for sustainable development. Covering a broad thematic and geographical reach, the Actions are led by diverse proponents from science, government, civil society, the private sector, philanthropy and international organizations.

A full list of the endorsed Ocean Decade Actions is available on the Ocean Decade website.  For more information: Contact: oceandecade@unesco.org. – Vinicius Lindoso, IOC-UNESCO

Integrated Ocean Carbon Research (IOC-R)

In the context of climate change, it is still unclear to scientists if the ocean will continue to help mitigate the effects of global warming, continuing to act as a major sink for carbon generated by human activities, or if its capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere will be altered as a consequence of the numerous human-induced ocean changes. Faced with the urgent need to find answers to this and other crucial scientific questions, five international research programmes on ocean and climate interaction have joined the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO to agree on a roadmap for future research, with the ultimate goal of providing decision-makers with the knowledge needed to implement effective climate change mitigation and adaptation policies in the next ten years.

The IOC Working Group on Integrated Ocean Carbon Research (IOC-R), established in 2018, aims at filling knowledge gaps in relation to ocean carbon by designing and promoting the implementation of the new generation of integrated ocean carbon research, and at informing policymaking on ocean and climate change. The Working Group, coordinated by IOC, fosters active collaboration and synergies amongst IOC, the International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project (IOCCP), the Surface-Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS), the Integrated Marine Biosphere Research (IMBeR), the Global Carbon Project (GCP), the core project on Climate and Ocean Variability, Predictability and Change (CLIVAR) of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), and relevant national efforts on carbon research. IOC-R is open to any other relevant international efforts on ocean carbon research with a demonstrated scientific record. Additional information: Publication; Press release; Contact: Salvatore Arico, Head of Ocean Science Section, IOC-UNESCO (s.arico@unesco.org).

Blue Carbon at UNFCCC SBSTA RD13 (Research Dialogue 13, 1-2 June 2021)

Reporting comprehensive inventories of greenhouse gas sources and sinks is an important step for tracking progress towards the Paris Agreement. In 2013, the IPCC released technical guidance on including wetlands in national greenhouse gas inventories, including blue carbon ecosystems – mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes. Yet, given the technical challenges involved, to date only a handful of countries have started this endeavor. The Blue Carbon Initiative and the International Partnership for Blue Carbon provide platforms to benefit from the experience and expertise of the global community, supporting scientists and countries to increase ambition on the inclusion of coastal blue carbon ecosystems in climate policies. The two initiatives contributed to the thirteenth Research Dialogue of the UNFCCC SBSTA with a poster presentation on current work in support of the protection and restoration of coastal blue carbon ecosystems. Contact: Elisabetta Bonotto, Project Coordinator, International Partnership for Blue Carbon, IOC-UNESCO (e.bonotto@unesco.org, cc: ipbc@environment.gov.au)

News on the Climate Conference (COP26)

  • The MP-GCA Co-focal points for Ocean and Coastal Zones convened an online Workshop on building collective key messages for COP26, 28 June 2021. For the meeting report and other information, contact: Loreley Picourt (lpicourt@ocean-climate.org) and Tamara Thomas (tthomas@conservation.org).
  • Informal consultations by the COP25 Presidency and the COP26 incoming Presidency: Informal meeting on oceans and climate, 29 June 2021. Contact: Joanna Post (jpost@unfccc.int). See the Because the Ocean report of the meeting here.

Why the Ocean Matters in Climate Negotiations

A new report highlights why the ocean matters in climate negotiations and suggests positive actions nations can take as the countdown to COP26 is underway. Leading UK experts shine a spotlight on the critical role the ocean plays in greatly slowing the rate of climate change but also the subsequent impacts of this and why support from nations for better inclusion of the ocean at the United Nations climate negotiations, such as COP26 in Glasgow this November, is so important. The briefing, led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory, summarizes the latest research and knowledge on the importance of the ocean, as well as offers a range of opportunities to nations in order to ensure that the ocean can be developed sustainably for the benefits it provides to people around the world. Developed by a team of experts from leading UK marine and environmental science universities and centres and published in association with the COP26 Universities Network, the briefing also makes suggestions on how the ocean can be better incorporated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. – Carol Turley, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

News from the Ocean & Climate Platform

Report: Ocean of Solutions to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss

The Ocean of Solutions report to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss aims to share accessible, reliable, scalable and replicable ocean-based solutions to address the climate and biodiversity crises. More than 50 organizations each put forth one of their flagship initiatives to encourage transformative change at all levels. It provides a pivot from ‘problem’ to ‘solution’, responding to policy requests and societal needs. The report showcases concrete solutions for both mitigation and/or adaptation action across four themes: 1) Protecting and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems; 2) Promoting research, developing scientific approaches and innovation; 3) Enhancing the transition towards low-carbon societies, territories and economies; 4) Education, awareness-raising and advocacy. Click here to read the report.

Brief: Coastal and marine ecosystems as Nature-based Solutions in new or updated NDCs

This first revision cycle of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement provides an opportunity for Parties to make greater use of coastal and marine Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in their national strategies and actions. In the run-up to UNFCCC COP26, the Ocean & Climate Platform, together with IUCN, Conservation International, WWF and other key partners, released a Policy Brief, which looks at Parties’ submissions to assess how and to what extent they integrated coastal and marine NbS as part of their climate mitigation and adaptation measures in their new or updated NDCs. Click here for more information.

Policy brief: Swimming the talk: How to strengthen synergies between the Climate and Biodiversity Conventions

Building synergies among the climate and biodiversity regimes will be decisive towards effective and holistic governance. And the ocean has a crucial role to play in this reconciliation. The Ocean & Climate Platform released a Policy Brief exploring options to build synergies between the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) towards a more integrated ocean-climate-biodiversity governance. Diving into these Conventions, this brief identifies four possible entry points across science, policy, action and finance to start swimming the talk and boost cooperation to address the greatest challenges of our time. Click here for more information.

For further information on the three publications, please contact: Loreley Picourt (lpicourt@ocean-climate.org), Secretary General, Ocean & Climate Platform

Rise Up for the Ocean

As a prescription for ocean health, Rise Up for the Ocean is a growing blue call to action from civil society urging governments and businesses to take the necessary actions to safeguard our ocean. With signatories from NGOs, foundations, Indigenous peoples federations, fisherfolk organizations, sports, media, arts, academia and more, RISE UP is a common ocean agenda setting out what needs to be done in the next 10 years. To join RISE UP, and the network of diverse ocean actors, sign on here. Watch the RISE UP video here. – Samuel Collins, Oceano Azul Foundation

Save the date: COP26 side event on Climate-related conflict: arts-based mediation and recourse to complaint, 10November 2021 2.30-5pm GMT, Level 3 of the new Learning & Teaching Building, TL328, University of Strathclyde

Organized by the One Ocean Hub, the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance, and the Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a short animation film titled Indlela yokuphila (“The soul’s journey”) made by artists, traditional healers, marine sociologists, and deep-sea marine ecologists from South Africa will be screened at the event. It will be followed by a discussion of the One Ocean Hub’s findings on how to use art-based mediation in climate-related conflict and the role of small-scale fishers as environmental human rights defenders. The IRM will present different avenues through which the IRM provides recourse to complaints arising from the adverse impacts of GCF projects and programmes. More details of this live/online event will be published on the One Ocean Hub website closer to the date. – Senia Febrica, One Ocean Hub

Call for Applications

The University of Brest is looking to hire a contractual researcher who will work in the SARGADOM, a collaborative project among the University of Brest, MarViva, the Sargasso Sea Commission, and the French Biodiversity Agency (OFB), which is supported by the Facility for Global Environment (FFEM). The project aims to develop and test methodologies for assessing needs and means for conservation strategies in the high seas with the Thermal Dome (East Central Pacific) and the Sargasso Sea as research fields.

Timeout for Ocean Photos and Puzzles

Prepared by Miriam Balgos and Alexis Maxwell.

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