Are oceans being talked about at COP?

The link between ocean acidification and climate change is one that is scientifically proven, where the former is happening due to oceans absorbing an excessive amount of atmospheric CO2. Not only does this lead to oceans’ decline in its capacity to function as a carbon sink, marine ecosystems such as coral reefs are severely affected as they remain unable to withstand an environment with reduced pH levels.

That’s only scratching the surface, and I haven’t even brought in coastal societies into the picture. Pacific Islands, or small island developing countries (SIDCs) in general, stand to be the first victims of climate-induced rising sea levels, yet when the time comes (I pray to god that isn’t any time soon) for the islanders to migrate, who’s going to accept them? Where will they go? Perhaps an even more critical question to ask is who’s to blame?

The first ever United Nations summit on oceans took place between 5th to 9th June in New York, whereby conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and marine resources were sought after. But 2017 isn’t the first time the ocean agenda was talked about in the realm of UNFCCC. An outcome of the Paris Agreement was the Strategic Action Roadmap on Oceans and Climate: 2016-2021, discussed on Oceans Day. From there, a multi-stakeholder initiative was born – the Roadmap to Oceans and Climate Action (ROCA), involving governments, international agencies, NGOs, scientific institutions, scientific advisors and private institutions etc.

Introduced last year in Marrakech, the Roadmap consists of 6 key areas, ranging from the central role of oceans in regulating climate change to financing and capacity development, in the next 5 years. Hence, how fitting it is that the Fijian Presidency of COP23, dubbed the Pacific COP, has included an ocean-related initiative.

This initiative, called the Ocean Pathway Partnership (OPP) aims for oceans to be a part of the UNFCCC agenda by 2019. Also, it is such that the OPP requires Parties to include oceans in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as the first step to recognise that the link between climate change and ocean acidification is having an adverse effect on marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Furthermore, as a result of ocean-inclusion in NDCs, the environmental and social costs of climate change on oceans would be included in mitigation actions. I believe that this is the right step, albeit late, considering that prior to the Paris Agreement, the only mention of oceans was in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG14), which states “conserve and sustainably use the ocean, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which defines the right and responsibilities of Parties with respect to the use of marine resources, with both of them being very vague.

Role of YOUNGO Oceans Working Group

The duty of YOUNGO Oceans Working Group at this COP has been to galvanise youth in supporting the Fijian Presidency to submit the ocean agenda to the UNFCCC Secretariat. Such was the case on the 10th of November where the YOUNGO Oceans Working Group organised the ‘Talanoa – Agreeing on an Ocean Pathway Partnership’ event, a platform “for exchange of opinions and ideas on how an effective OPP should look like and how it can be implemented.” As a result of this platform, a statement was produced on the participants’ views of OPP. Besides this document, an open letter will be written to the Fijian Presidency to show that YOUNGO is in support of the ocean initiative.

As of now, the suggestion document and the open letter are still a work in progress. The Fijian Presidency aims to have the OPP signed by Thursday (16/11/2017) and regardless the Fijian Delegation pay heed to the view of YOUNGO in driving through the Ocean Pathway Partnership or not, let us hope that the submission of this proposal is accepted by the UNFCCC Secretariat. Hence, if and when 100 signatories are obtained, perhaps the small island developing states would not have to find a new place to call home after all.

Written by Syaqil

Edited by Varun