Usually my experiences at the COP leave me feeling like the ocean is extremely underrepresented at the UNFCCC level. However, today has left me hopeful that this is slowly beginning to change. Today was a good day for the oceans.
First, the ocean acidification side-event at the US Center that I had the opportunity to present in alongside Carol Turley, Nelson Lagos, Laura Ramajo Gallardo, David Osborn, and Libby Jewett was a great success. The event was very well-attended and the audience included some important delegates. To the delight of the speakers, the audience members were actively engaged in asking questions after the presentations that ranged from additional details about specific impacts, to questions about what can be done. The speakers and I tried to drive home some important points including the economic impacts of ocean acidification, unique vulnerabilities of certain areas, the importance of a multi-stressor context when thinking about ocean acidification in upwelling regions, and the need for global monitoring of changing ocean pH conditions. There was so much audience interest that the discussion continued informally even after the event ended. This type of audience concern and interest makes me feel that little by little things are shifting and people are starting to think about what's happening under the water. A video of the event should be available tomorrow and I'll post a link to it when it's ready.
The second major thing that happened today was that the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, eloquently and passionately brought up climate change ocean impacts during today's event on the State of the Global Climate 2014. Her quote was, "The heat is being absorbed by the oceans. There is no doubt that the oceans continues to warm and that on a very very consistent basis, and what it is doing frankly is doing us a little favor. They are absorbing the heat that could have gone to the land, and paying the price. The acidification of the oceans is really not to be underestimated and the price that we’re paying in the oceans is something that we perhaps don't notice because we don’t pay as much attention there because we as humans live on the land. But those beings that live in the ocean are certainly noticing this and the ocean is giving us a tiny little bit of respite at the cost of those who are living in the ocean to those who live on land. This is a situation that we can no longer afford." You can watch the whole video here, and the section on the ocean comes up around the 21 minute mark. I believe every ocean scientist who has ever come to the COP to bring attention to this issue gave Christiana a big round of applause for finally bringing the ocean back into these high level discussions (and in a context outside of sea level rise). This was a very different experience compared to yesterday's IPCC Synthesis Report Special Event where the ocean hardly made it into the discussion.
Finally, the evening ended with another great ocean event, this time focused on conservation of biodiversity of different marine regions (from the deep sea to the coastlines). This event took place at the off-site Ocean Pavillion which is organized by the Peruvian government and has a beautiful set-up that showcases the oceans, including large screens, interactive displays, and a giant sculpture made out of trash recovered from the ocean. Since this is an off-site location, it is open to the public, and therefore allows more citizens of Lima to come and learn about how climate change is impacting the oceans. Lisa Levin, the head of our delegation and the director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, gave a compelling talk on the needs and challenges of protecting deep-sea biodiversity in a time when deep-sea resource exploitation is becoming more and more relevant.
With three major wins for ocean topics today, I'd say that today was a good day for the oceans. In the future, I hope that this acknowledgment brings forth real meaningful action and legislation, but for today I will breath a sigh of relief and be happy about the acknowledgment of the oceans at the COP.