The scientific evidence that the world’s ocean is changing dramatically due to climate change has been underpinned with a report released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) provides a deep dive into observed impacts, future risks and limits to adaptation as well as available adaptation and mitigation solutions from coastal and ocean-based activities.
Achieving the mitigation targets set by the Paris Agreement on climate change and limiting the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is crucial to prevent the massive, irreversible impacts of climate change on coastal and marine ecosystems and their services. Nations are still far from the deep transformation throughout society that we desperately need to address climate change.
Nature-based solutions – as the IPCC SROCC re-confirms – remain a key tool to adapting to these dramatic shifts, while at the same time helping mitigate climate change. IUCN’s work with its members and partners has significantly advanced enabling policy conditions for nature-based solutions, and helped implement them nationally and locally in coastal and marine areas.
“The scale of the onslaught we humans are subjecting the ocean to is truly distressing. Climate change is increasingly decimating marine life, and putting human livelihoods and our very lives at risk,” said IUCN Acting Director General Dr Grethel Aguilar. “The global community must urgently act to mitigate and adapt to these looming changes, making full use of the potential offered by nature-based solutions alongside ambitious emission cuts. Decisive action can still put a brake on the alarming losses we are witnessing.”
With the Blue Carbon Initiative, IUCN is helping mitigate climate change by conserving and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems. The initiative continues to advance scientific understanding of blue carbon systems and accelerate policy action, including integrating coastal management activities into countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
The protection of coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses and saltmarshes can contribute to ongoing carbon sequestration. Conversely, the destruction of these ecosystems contributes to carbon emissions. Sustainable coastal management also plays a vital role for ecosystem-based adaptation, for example via the conservation of coral reefs. While broadly acknowledged, ecosystem-based adaptation remains an underutilised solution in the immediate fight against climate change, despite providing additional benefits for society and biodiversity.
Establishing marine protected areas and other adaptive measures, such as precautionary catch limits to prevent overfishing, can help protect ocean ecosystems and shield humans from the effects of climate change, including ocean warming, deoxygenation and acidification.
The world urgently needs new means of implementing and sustainably financing such nature-based solutions in the coastal and marine environment. This is why IUCN created the Blue Natural Capital Financing Facility together with the Government of Luxembourg. The BNCFF helps investors become involved in building a sustainable, climate-resilient future based on sustainable use and conservation of costal and marine ecosystems.
While many climate impacts on land are well known, relatively little is known about the impacts of climate change on our ocean such as ocean warming, deoxygenation and acidification, specifically on deep-sea ecosystems. IUCN is helping bridge that gap through research, including an upcoming report on ocean deoxygenation due to be launched at the UNFCCC COP25, supported by the Government of Sweden.
“Global action to address the state of the ocean has never been more urgent. Nature-based solutions that build on conservation of ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrass meadows have a much bigger role to play in adaptation efforts, and also help mitigate climate change,” said IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme Director Minna Epps.
But the message from the IPCC is crystal clear: if emissions are not drastically reduced, the ocean, and its ecosystems, will not be the same by the end of this century. This will have dramatic consequences for species and ecosystems, and for us humans around the globe.