More consideration, urgent action needed to tackle oceanic climate change

5 November 2021

Efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees – the objective of COP26 – will not succeed without taking the ocean into account as well as immediate ambition and urgency from politicians, say the authors of a new scientific paper that include Dr Lucy Woodall of the University of Oxford.

In The forgotten ocean - why COP26 must call for vastly greater ambition and urgency to address ocean change, published in the journal Aquatic Conservation, the scientists from around the world set out six urgently needed actions on oceans, adding that changes in the ocean are accelerating the rate of climate change.

The ocean is the largest carbon sink on Earth and does far more work than land in mitigating climate change – absorbing over 90% of the excess heat produced, in comparison with only about 3% absorbed by land, the paper shows.

However, absorbing this excess carbon and heat is damaging the ocean - exacerbating extreme weather, shifting ocean currents and reducing its ability to absorb carbon.

Lucy Woodall, Associate Professor in Marine Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, said: ‘The ocean is vital to our health. The climate crisis is tightly intertwined with many other threats like pollution and poor fishing practices. Together they are stressing the ocean, and these threats are best considered together to maximise the impact of the decisions that must be made.

‘By mitigating climate change with equitable and just ocean actions now, we give ourselves the best chance for survival. We need to ramp up ambition for protection and stop activities that damage the ocean.’

The scientists’ six proposals are:

  1. Scale up solutions to a planetary ‘Earthscape level’ – in other words, ambition must match the challenge.
  2. Accelerate and integrate the efficacy of climate/biodiversity actions to achieve greater impact and effect.
  3. Stop support for activities that damage the ocean - redirect incentives to positive outcomes for the planet.
  4. Drive ocean recovery and restoration through enhanced global cooperation and momentum.
  5. Highlight the connection between nature and global economics – value the ocean’s natural capital to invest in all our futures
  6. Deliver the science we need for a healthy, productive, and resilient ocean that benefits people and inspires humankind as a whole.

Notes to editors:

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