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By Krishneil Narayan, COP23 Project Coordinator, Resilience and Sustainable Development Programme, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji
There is an urgent need for action on the ocean and climate change nexus.
Our oceans, which cover three quarters of the earth’s surface, is one of the greatest and most important resources of our planet. It provides food for four out of ten people in the world and is a source of income for billions of people, including those of us living in Pacific island Countries (PICs).
Although small in terms of land area, the PICs have some of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the world and this makes the ocean an important resource for island nations.
The ocean plays a significant role in the global climate system, generating oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Climate change is leading to alterations in the oceans, including sea-level rise and ocean acidification, which put marine ecosystems and coastal communities at risk.
People need a healthy ocean to survive and yet, we keep polluting, exhausting, and destroying this valuable resource. Addressing the future of ocean and related climate impacts will require direct action and political will.
The Paris Agreement currently recognises the important role of ecosystem services to climate change and its role as a carbon sink. The ocean is the most critical of all ecosystems due to a combination of its composition and scale. There is no solution to global climate change without action on the world’s ocean.
The Ocean Pathway Partnership was launched in Bonn, Germany during the COP23 Climate Change Conference under Fiji’s presidency. It is currently co-chaired by Fiji and Sweden and provides timely leadership in highlighting the role of the ocean in the global climate change processes.
The Ocean Pathway is a two-track initiative that consists of establishing the appropriate role of the ocean in the UN climate change discussions and, increasing action on ocean and climate change interlinkages.
The Government of Sweden has been providing financial support to assist initiatives under the Oceans Pathway Partnership. In 2018, Sweden channeled some of this support through the UNDP Ocean Pathway Partnership Project.
The project supported the Blue Pledge, an initiative by J. Hunter Pearls Fiji that recognizes that the pearl industry is on the frontline of climate change with ocean acidification and warming threatening the formation of both the oyster and the pearls. The initiative was launched at the Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) Conference in Suva in July 2018 and has set up a non-profit organization to ensure a healthy ocean and link the activities of pearl farmers to the luxury market.
The CAPP meeting last year provided an opportunity to present to Pacific Island leaders and representatives the Ocean Pathway to ensure their support moving towards COP24 in Poland and COP25 in Chile.
The Ocean Pathway targeted 2020 as the final landing date for the ocean in the global climate discourse and identified the upcoming UN COP25 climate meeting in Chile as the most likely opportunity.
In order to generate political momentum, the Sweden supported UNDP Ocean Pathway Partnership Project has been assisting with an initiative called ‘The Friends of Ocean Action’ - a coalition of over 50 ocean leaders who are fast-tracking solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. Its members, or “the Friends”, include leaders from businesses, civil society, international organisations, science and technology institutions. The Friends of the Ocean initiative is co-chaired by Fiji’s Ambassador Peter Thompson who is also the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, and Hon. Isabella Lövin, the Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden.
The inaugural Friends of the Ocean event was held in Bangkok in September 2018 where over 30 countries were represented and discussed an options paper for ocean action in the UN climate change processes. It was agreed that for COP24 the aim for the group would be to ensure the Paris Rulebook was “ocean friendly” and to continue to push for ocean and climate considerations in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
The second Friends of the Ocean meeting held in New York in the same month during the UN General Assembly encouraged consideration for a strong presence of ocean and climate issues in the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit that is to be held in September 2019.
UNDP and Sweden supported a number of Ocean Pathway Partnership related activities at COP24 held in December 2018.
On 6 December, the Ocean Pathway Partnership hosted a ‘talanoa-style’ informal discussion (‘Talanoa’ is a style of dialogue practiced in the Pacific, which fosters openness and inclusiveness) with speakers from Grenada, Seychelles, Sweden, Indonesia and Fiji discussing the political options for COP25, including leadership around the IPCC report on Ocean and Cryosphere and the possibility of an agenda item for the ocean at COP25. Strong reminders were heard on the realities of an ocean process in the UN climate change discourse and the possibility that COP25 maybe just the beginning of a multi-year journey to enhance action on ocean related climate change issues.
A dinner event held on 10 December provided an opportunity for 50 government representatives and partners to discuss plans for ocean action and build a strong team for achieving the goals.
The final ocean event for COP24 held on 13 December 2018 provided an opportunity to bring the supporters and partners of the Ocean Pathway Partnership together. Key speakers included the Commonwealth Secretary General, Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden and the Minister of Climate Change of New Zealand.
All these events supported by UNDP and Sweden were crucial in generating political will and an opportunity to target COP25 as the “Ocean COP” or a “blue COP” where it could be ensured that ocean is integrated in the UN climate change processes.
It was clear from the ocean meetings at COP24 that the Ocean Pathway had established leadership on the ocean and climate issues in the UN climate change process.
Hence, when Chile stepped forward to host COP25 in December of this year it announced that COP25 will be a “blue COP” with a focus on oceans.
A blue COP25 presents a critical year for the Ocean Pathway to engage the governments and partners at the political and negotiations levels to ensure ocean issues are given maximum opportunities at COP25.
Following the announcement by Chile for blue COP25, two meetings held in Suva in May 2019 – the Ocean Negotiators Symposium and the 3rd Climate Action Pacific Partnership Conference - emphasised ocean as one of the priority issues for the Pacific islands region to champion this year.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also visited the Pacific region in May and outlined the intertwined challenges of climate change and ocean health facing Pacific nations on the frontline.
Guterres warned that “we are not yet winning the battle in relation to climate change and we are not yet winning the battle in relation to oceans”.
“To address the intertwined challenges of climate change and ocean health, we need smart and far-reaching steps” that require action aligned with the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.”
It is clear that there is a strong will to pursue the ocean topic by those countries involved, however, the shape and form of the process is very much yet to be determined.
The road to a blue COP and the integration of oceans and climate change in all of climate action activities has only just begun. An exciting and challenging journey lies ahead as we try to raise the profile of oceans globally and making it a central issue in the climate change discussions.
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media