On the opening day of this year’s United Nations climate summit or COP25, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a gut punch: “We are knowingly destroying the very support systems keeping us alive.”
One of those vital systems is the world’s oceans, which generate at least 50% of all oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and have absorbed an estimated 93% of the excess heat from human-caused climate change. But despite the vital importance of our oceans, we haven’t given the ocean much attention in previous climate summits.
This year, however, is different. 2019 marks the first-ever “Blue COP,” a nod to a growing recognition that protecting marine environments is essential to tackling the climate crisis, and vice versa. Scientists and advocates say this year’s event has helped elevate oceans to their proper place in the climate conversation. But a bigger push is to integrate ocean issues into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and have countries use oceans as a tool to meet emissions reduction targets.
Ahead of the talks, Indonesia, Fiji, Costa Rica, and other countries proposed ocean-specific language that could end up in a final COP decision. The document calls on an advisory body of the UNFCCC to “convene a dialogue on the ocean-climate nexus” during its upcoming session in June ― a move that could officially bring oceans into future party negotiations.
Of course, what oceans need most is for world governments to rapidly move away from fossil fuels. A recent ocean economy impact analysis, which builds upon the IPCC report from last year, found that at 2 degrees warming, upward of 99% of remaining corals could perish. The IPCC estimates that climate-induced ocean damage could cost the global economy $428 billion annually by 2050 and nearly $2 trillion by 2100.
Yes, we know this isn’t optimistic news, but the point is that this knowledge has been made known at the Blue COP and will hopefully pressure politicians to do more to protect our oceans.