The vital link between oceans and climate change is among the issues at the forefront of discussions at the United Nations Ocean Conference taking place in New York from June 5 to 9, which is being attended by the UN’s top climate change official, Patricia Espinosa.
The Ocean Conference highlights the necessity of adopting integrated approaches to better monitor the progress being made in the ocean and climate agendas, and to address these issues jointly.
According to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), oceans and climate change are two key elements of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It adds that SDG 13 sets out targets to be met in order to combat climate change and its impacts. SDG 14 aims at conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
The oceans, which cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, are said to play a major role in the global climate system, generating oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Changes to the climate, brought about by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, are leading to changes in the oceans, including sea-level rise and ocean acidification, which put marine ecosystems and coastal communities at risk.
- produces half of the world’s oxygen and stores one third of all carbon emissions stemming from human activity. It is the largest carbon sink on the planet, and therefore serves as a major ally in the combat against climate change.
- absorbs over 90% of excess heat accumulated in the climate system, thus contributing to the regulation of the climate system.
But warmer atmospheric temperatures and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases exert a huge pressure on the ocean and threaten its ability to regulate the climate.
The oceans are experiencing increased stress from climate change. As a consequence of thermal expansion of seawater and melting of glaciers and ice sheets, global sea levels have risen by 20 centimetres since the beginning of the 20th century.
Because of growing concentrations of CO2, ocean acidity has also increased by 30% since the Industrial Revolution, and today, ocean acidification is occurring at an unprecedented speed.
These phenomena, triggered by climate change and increased CO2 emissions, are threatening sea and marine ecosystems, as well as the major resources they contain. They have already shown their negative impacts on lives and economies in coastal communities, and could have even bigger consequences in the future.
Particularly at risk are the inhabitants of small island States, who are more vulnerable to sea level rises and extreme meteorological conditions, and who depend on sea resources for their livelihoods.