The missing oceans

Ronny Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues

“People ask: Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of Earth's life support system; it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth… We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won't get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something.” ― Sylvia A. Earle

For islanders, the ocean is never an afterthought. The ocean is at the core of every part of our lives; we are shaped by it and in turn the way we behave shapes the ocean.

Oceans play a central role in protecting the planet, and their protection is indivisibly bound with climate change and the success of sustainable development efforts. As temperature levels change within the ocean, so does the habitat for every creature in the area, leading to unnatural migration, biodiversity disruption and the increase of invasive alien species. Our number one priority should be to keep the increase in global temperature as far below 1.5˚C as possible. Besides, that's the only thing that can counter ocean acidification. It must be understood that ocean acidification does not occur in isolation to the associated impacts of climate change.

Characterised as “the other CO2 problem”, ocean acidification is caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and seawater, resulting in potentially deleterious effects for marine biodiversity, ecosystems and human society. According to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2014 report, the acidic growth and intensity of the world’s oceans could cost the global economy up to $1 trillion by 2100, with current rates of carbon dioxide emissions. The report asserted the acidity of the oceans has increased by at least 26 per cent since pre-industrial levels, which affects the health of coral reefs and ultimately, their ability to provide goods and services to the global economy.

Our oceans are being neglected at COP20. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that ocean warming dominates the global energy change inventory. Warming of the ocean accounts for about 93 per cent of the increase in the Earth’s energy inventory between 1971 and 2010, and global average sea level has risen by 0.19m over the period 1901–2010. So why is this not being talked about?

Although there has been an increase in political awareness for the oceans, discussions mainly take place between scientific or technical experts. In February 2014, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) proposed a stand-alone sustainable development goal for oceans, including “the development of marine protected areas and assessment of ocean acidification; restored fish stocks for economic growth and food security to eliminate the deleterious effects of overfishing; and financial assistance”.

The successes of the recent Third International Conference on SIDS in Samoa need to be highlighted in the new agreement currently being drafted in Lima. While SIDS prioritised the enhancement of “local, national, regional, and global cooperation to address the causes of ocean acidification and to further study and minimise its impacts” in Samoa, increasing the resilience of marine ecosystems to the impacts of ocean acidification must remain high on SIDS development agendas.

Island states refuse to be victims. The rhetoric of SIDS used in the climate change and sustainable development negotiations changes to that of Large Ocean States when we talk about the oceans and seas. We make visionary commitments to protect our habitat.

Seychelles, for example, is currently negotiating a multi-million-dollar debt-for-adaptation swap with the Paris Club – including France, the host of the COP21 climate change conference in 2015 – to exchange public debt to raise funds to turn 30 per cent of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.4 million square kilometres into Marine Protected Areas. Such a swap would provide debt relief and release foreign exchange for sustainable development of the islands’ Blue Economy, as well as tackle climate change through ecosystem-based adaptation, increase marine conservation and strengthen sustainable fisheries.

There must be a transformation socially, economically and politically in order to create an environment that promotes and expands sustainable investments and protects our planet. It is essential that we launch a new mechanism in Paris which addresses the incorporation of ocean acidification into adaptation and mitigation ambitions, and SIDS should be assisted in strengthening the resilience of the oceans and seas under their stewardship.