Oceans’ role highlighted as global warming ‘regulator’

IRENA estimates the potential of wave energy at around 29,500 TWh per year. This means wave energy alone could theoretically meet all global demand for energy, says Franceso La Camera. [Wonderlane/Flickr]

The Ocean and Climate Platform, a civil society group, has launched an appeal to recognise the vital role played by oceans in regulating global warming ahead of the COP 21 UN climate talks in Paris later this year. EURACTIV France reports

The oceans are the “blue lungs” of the planet. That is the message of the Ocean’s call for Climate, which offers a series of proposals to ensure the role of oceans as the planet’s natural thermostat is safeguarded at the COP 21 in Paris later this year.

Civil society, NGO and business representatives came together at World Oceans Day on 8 June to sign this declaration, made up of 18 proposals for placing the oceans at the heart of the COP 21 negotiations.

Five oceans cover 71% of the planet, and play a major part in regulating its surface temperature. But they have often been excluded from international climate negotiations.

>> Read: Global warming could speed up as oceans soak up less CO2

“COP 21 is doomed to failure if we do not place the oceans at the heart of the debate,” warned Francis Vallat, president of the European Network of Maritime Clusters.

The signatories of the text, which include the Association of French Ship Owners, the Institute of Circular Economy and WWF, hope to convince the COP 21 negotiators of the importance of this issue.

Carbon capture

The text includes a proposal to increase the ocean’s capacity to act as a buffer against climate change, by establishing and protecting more ecosystems that capture and store CO2.

Only 3% of the world’s oceans currently benefit from special protection measures. This area is too small to guarantee the future ability of the oceans to store CO2, according to the Ocean and Climate Platform.

“The impact of global warming on the oceans is two-fold,” said Laurence Eymard, the director of research at the French National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS). “Sea-levels are rising because of melting ice caps, but also the thermal expansion of the oceans”.

>> Read: Baltic bacteria outbreak blamed on sea warming

The impact of these phenomena is strongly felt on low-lying coastlines. The increased acidification and reduced oxygen levels they cause also destabilise the oceans’ ecosystems, disturb migratory patterns and accelerate the disappearance of marine species.

Philippe Germa, the director-general of WWF France, said, “Between 1970 and 2010, we saw the decline of 39% of marine species and the disappearance of 50% of the planet’s corals”.

The blue lungs of the planet

The document also highlights the important role the oceans play in capturing carbon dioxide.

“The ocean captures 90% of the heat from the greenhouse effect and a quarter of our CO2 emissions,” said Françoise Gail, the Ocean and Climate Platform’s scientific advisor. “How long will this ability to regulate the climate last?” she asked.

A reduction in the ocean’s carbon absorption capacity would cause atmospheric CO2 levels to rise sharply, cancelling out countries’ efforts to limit their emissions.

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

The 20th COP took place in Lima, Peru, from 1 to 12 December 2014, and Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

Agreeing on a framework, whether legally binding or not, is the priority between now and December.

30 November - 11 December 2015: COP 21 in Paris


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