Summary report, 8 December 2018

Oceans Action Day at COP 24

Oceans Action Day took place on Saturday, 8 December 2018, in Katowice, Poland, on the sidelines of the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It was organized by the: Global Ocean Forum; Roadmap to Oceans and Climate Action (ROCA) Initiative; Oceano Azul Foundation, Portugal; Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Japan; Ocean Pathway (Governments of Fiji and Sweden); Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC/UNESCO); Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO); International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); Future Ocean Alliance; Ocean and Climate Platform; and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Over 400 participants attended Oceans Action Day and heard presentations from over 50 speakers, including UN Special Envoys and Champions, ministers, ambassadors and representatives from academia, governments, civil society, and the private sector. Discussions, debate and presentations highlighted issues linking the ocean and its resources to:

  • climate change adaptation and mitigation;
  • food security;
  • disaster risk reduction;
  • trade;
  • scientific research;
  • finance; and
  • displacement and migration.

Participants also considered aspects of the ROCA report on Assessing Progress on Ocean and Climate Action: 2018, which can be found at:

The key outcome of the day was a greater commitment to include oceans on the UNFCCC agenda and the climate change negotiations, with many high-level delegates underscoring the importance of concurrently addressing threats to the ocean and the impacts of climate change.

Brief History of Climate Change and Oceans

Climate change is considered to be one of the most serious threats to sustainable development, having adverse impacts on the environment, human health, food security, economic activity, natural resources and physical infrastructure. Climate change is also having a profound impact on the world’s oceans. Ocean warming directly impacts humans and ocean life – from sea-level rise and increased storm intensity to habitat shifts and receding coastlines. This in turn disrupts ocean and coastal food webs, making it harder for fish, seabirds and humans to find food necessary for survival. These changes drastically impact vulnerable coastal and island areas, sometimes resulting in loss of life, damage to infrastructure, the economy, tourism and fisheries, and possible displacement of populations.

In addition, oceans absorbed approximately 30% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by humans over the last 200 years, resulting in an array of impacts, including ocean acidification, ocean warming and sea-level rise, with substantial impacts on ocean chemistry and life.

World Ocean Conference: The World Ocean Conference in Manado, Indonesia, organized by the Government of Indonesia and the Global Ocean Forum, took place from 11-15 May 2009. The primary outcome of the meeting was the Manado Ocean Declaration, which underscored the importance of having oceans on the climate change agenda at UNFCCC COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and beyond.

Our Ocean Conferences: The Our Ocean Conferences, launched by the US Government, have taken place since 2014. They focus on key ocean issues, including marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and climate-related impacts on the ocean.

The first conference, held in 2014, resulted in the development of the Our Ocean Action Plan, and USD 800 million worth of new partnerships and initiatives.

The second conference, which took place in October 2015 in Chile, generated USD 2.1 billion in commitments on oceans, including for creating and expanding marine protected areas (MPAs), and addressing marine debris and pollution.

The third conference, which took place in September 2016 in the US, resulted in over 136 new initiatives on marine conservation and protection, as well as new commitments on the protection of approximately four million square kilometers of ocean.

The fourth Our Ocean Conference, hosted by the European Union (EU), was held in Malta in October 2017, and resulted in 437 commitments, EUR 7.2 billion in financial pledges, and 2.5 million square kilometres of additional MPAs.

The fifth Our Ocean Conference, hosted by Indonesia, convened in Bali from 29-30 October 2018, resulted in 305 commitments, USD 10.7 in financial pledges and 14 million square kilometers of additional MPAs.

Oceans Day at UNFCCC COP 21: Oceans Day at COP 21 convened in the Rio Conventions Pavilion, in Paris, France, on 4 December 2015, and addressed:

  • challenges and opportunities in the context of climate and oceans;
  • impacts of climate change on oceans, and on coastal and small island developing states (SIDS) populations;
  • mitigation and oceans;
  • adaptation and financing for adaptation;
  • capacity development, scientific monitoring and public education; and
  • a five-year agenda for action, or ROCA.

IISD’s Oceans Action Day report from COP 21 can be found here.

Oceans Day at UNFCCC COP 22: This event convened on 12 November 2016, in Marrakech, Morocco, and was held in the official zone for the first time during a COP. The day included: high-level addresses by ministers, scientists, private sector representatives, and policymakers who elaborated on policies, action plans, initiatives and commitments to implement the Paris Agreement, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 14 (life below water), and work towards fulfilling their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

IISD’s coverage of Oceans Day from COP 22 can be found here.

UN Ocean Conference: The High-Level UN Conference to Support the Implementation of SDG 14 was held from 5-9 June 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York. The conference, co-hosted by the Governments of Fiji and Sweden, included the participation of approximately 4,000 delegates, including 16 Heads of State. The conference resulted in a globally agreed Call for Action, and the registration of 1328 voluntary commitments by governments and other stakeholders.

IISD’s coverage of the Ocean Conference can be found here.

Oceans Day at UNFCCC COP 23: This event, which convened on 12 November 2016, in Bonn, Germany, highlighted: the acceleration in adverse trends; the need for urgent action and political mobilization; appreciation for the Fiji COP 23 Presidency Ocean Pathway initiative; the recognition that significant progress has been made in the past few years on various aspects of the oceans and climate agenda; and the importance of keeping an international agenda and connections between a healthy ocean and a safe climate.

IISD’s coverage of Oceans Day from COP 23 can be found here.

Oceans Action Day Report

Marrakech Partnership Ocean and Coastal Zones Action Event

The Oceans Action Day Co-Chairs opened the day’s events. Co-Chair Biliana Cicin-Sain, President, Global Ocean Forum, welcomed participants and urged that the ocean-climate nexus be approached in an integrated manner at both the global and national levels. She called attention to the importance of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), stressing that its findings will necessitate major paradigm shifts in our collective thinking and action.

She explained SR15’s findings include that:

  • major climate change impacts will occur much earlier than expected, as early as 2030;
  • a marked difference exists between keeping to a 1.5°C scenario versus a 2°C scenario, including that the displacement of millions of people and the loss of a variety of ecosystems could be avoided; and
  • unprecedented changes in national and global economies require the global temperature not exceed 1.5°C.

Co-Chair Tiago Pitta e Cunha, Executive Director, Ocean Azul Foundation, Portugal, recommended a preparatory conference to solidify contributions for the upcoming Ocean Conference in 2020, expected to be held in Lisbon in June.

Opening Address by the High-level Climate Champion, Poland: In his opening address, Tomasz Chruszczow, COP 24 Special Envoy for Climate Change, and High-level Climate Champion, Poland, underscored that clean and healthy oceans are a key factor for economic development. He stressed the need to pursue all possible pathways to limit global warming, welcoming increased action in the priority areas of oceans and coastal zones, and pointed to the example of successful partnerships, such as the Global Coral Reef Partnership.

A Whole UN Approach to the Oceans and Climate Nexus: In his address, Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General’ s Special Envoy for the Ocean, called for more action and ambition to protect the oceans, noting that implementation guidelines are essential for building trust among nations. He stressed that the second UN Ocean Conference in 2020 should focus on action and funding needed, and should strike for a balance between protection and sustainable use. Thomson further underlined the need for action at the individual level.

Analyses of Trends/Reports: Calling for a new “social contract for ocean science” to trigger adaptation and mitigation of climate change as it relates to the ocean, Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary, IOC/UNESCO, called to begin funding an ocean prediction project, which would work through modelling, an ocean observation system, and predictive ecosystem management.

Manuel Barange, Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources Division, FAO, presented trends of global undernourishment, noting that it has increased in the last few years. He called for a change in the trajectory of the curve by increasing fisheries production while maintaining sustainable fish stocks, and for political commitment and societal support to scale up adaptation measures. Barange also presented the major highlights of the 2018 FAO Report on The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA), which can be found at:

Discussion: In the ensuing discussion, participants considered, among others: land-based aquaculture as an option for feeding the world; the need for an intergovernmental panel on food resources; the negative effects of land-based aquaculture, including the destruction of mangroves; and how to both conserve and sustainably use ocean resources, in light of a growing global population.

Mobilizing the Ocean Agenda at the UNFCCC: Julio Cordano, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chile, and “Because the Ocean” Initiative, drew attention to practical entry points for integrating oceans into the UNFCCC agenda, and underlined the importance of collaboration between government and non-state actors.

Helen Ågren, Swedish Ambassador for the Ocean, called for the integration of oceans in the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement, and for governments to build trust with the younger generation.

Taholo Kami, Special Representative for the Ocean Pathway, COP 23 Presidency Secretariat, Fiji, proposed two actions before COP 25:

  • a negotiators’ meeting for fifty critical countries, hosted by Fiji; and
  • a high-level ministerial meeting following the publication of the ntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC).

Perspectives from State Parties: Archibald Young, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK, underscored that the UK is committed to SDG 14 and recognized the opportunity to conclude a robust Paris Agreement Work Programme in Katowice, that enables funding to flow where needed.

Discussion: In the discussion, participants drew attention to, inter alia: the need to continue capacity building on oceans work in parallel with the political negotiations related to the ocean and climate change; the UNFCCC Friends of the Ocean initiative to engage parties in integrating oceans into the UNFCCC process, including the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement; the Communities of Ocean Action driving the implementation of the voluntary commitments that came out of the Ocean Conference in 2017; and the Friends of Ocean Action, a Davos-based partnership that engages the private sector in ocean action.

Contributing to Global, Regional, and National, and Sub-National Agendas on the Oceans and Climate Nexus: Ronald Jumeau, Permanent Representative of Seychelles to the UN, described the contributions of SIDS to protecting marine areas, saying that they are “stepping to the crest of the wave” as oceans gain importance in the UNFCCC.

Via video, Karmenu Vela, European Commission, announced the EU’s plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, noting the importance of offshore energy production and the protection of marine ecosystems.

Ambassador Alvaro Mendonça e Moura, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Portugal, spoke about Portugal’s investments in ocean literacy and interdisciplinary research, drawing attention to the 2020 Ocean Conference, expected to convene in Lisbon in June 2020.

Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development, World Bank, underscored the World Bank’s commitment to redesign investments to incorporate the impacts of climate change on fisheries and design more innovative projects to elevate the ocean agenda in international climate discussions through collaboration.

Ken Alex, Director, Office of Planning and Research, State of California, US, lamented that the level of ambition for oceans is insufficient, noting the need for funding and further implementation.

Yoshihisa Shirayama, Associate Executive Director, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, stressed the importance of comprehensive collaboration with different stakeholders, urging innovation in mitigation measures.

Stina Bagge, Youth NGO Oceans Working Group, noted that in spite of all the ocean action since COP 21, there is still a need to engage young people in integrating oceans into climate action, through education, collaboration and raising awareness.

Lauding participants at the Oceans Action Day for their commitment to addressing climate change and protecting the oceans simultaneously, Atsushi Sunami, President, Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, drew attention to the reports on the state of the oceans and climate change, SR15 and the ROCA 2018 progress report.

The Ocean-Climate Nexus: Addressing Major Issues

During this session, held in the Japanese pavilion, participants engaged in a panel discussions on the three key issues of science, adaptation and displacement, and NDCs and finance, all of which are related to the ROCA report on “Assessing Progress on Ocean and Climate Action: 2018.”

New Science on the Oceans and Climate Nexus and How to Incorporate New Scientific Findings into the UNFCCC Process: This session was co-chaired by Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC/UNESCO, and Hans-Otto Pörtner, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair and Alfred Wegener-Institute. Atsushi Sunami noted that Japan is taking the lead in raising the profile of oceans in the climate change discourse.

Pörtner highlighted that the difference between a 1.5°C and a 2°C increase will have clear consequences, such as more frequent climate extremes and an erosion of livelihoods. He emphasized that “every bit of warming matters.”

Current Research and Questions Being Addressed in the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC): Via video message, Bruce Glavovic, Massey University, New Zealand, Coordinating Lead Author, SROCC, spoke about the research findings on sea-level rise, underscoring the negative impacts it has on coastal communities. He outlined research and policy questions for coastal communities, including:

  • how coastal communities can build political will to sustain action on sea-level rise;
  • the best ways to promote community engagement;
  • how to close the science-policy gap to effectively address sea-level rise;
  • how processes could be aligned to bring about legislative action; and
  • what can be done to encourage institutional learning to drive change.

William Wai Lung Cheung, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, and, Coordinating Lead Author, IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Chapter 5 on “Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities,” lamented that changes related to the ocean based on anthropogenic emissions are set to continue into the next century.

Loreley Picourt, Ocean and Climate Platform, spoke about how to move from science to policy, and from science to action, highlighting that the UN General Assembly proclaimed the Decade on Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), and the need to include both natural and social sciences in discussions during the Decade. She drew attention to a multi-stakeholder dialogue to ensure that gender, youth and indigenous peoples are engaged in conversations and actions related to the ocean, and to incorporate the ocean in the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement.

Kirsten Isensee, Programme Specialist, Ocean Carbon Sources and Sinks, IOC/UNESCO, highlighted the need to increase public understanding and engage local communities to translate scientific knowledge into policy actions to protect ocean resources.

Stephen Crooks, Co-Chair, Blue Carbon Initiative Scientific Working Group, stressed the importance of including coastal wetlands in the IPCC SROCC and encouraged countries to start including blue carbon ecosystems in their national inventories and management strategies.

Participants then discussed, among others: the need for datasets to address the flux in kelps, mudflats and mariculture ecosystems; and the opportunities presented by the Decade on Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to address the complexities of the ocean.

Adaptation and Population Displacement: This session, hosted in the Japanese Pavilion, was chaired by Miko Maekawa, Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

Stressing that preparedness is key, Maekawa said that 18.8 million people were displaced in 2018 due to changes in the environment, noting that displacement is about adaptation, mitigation, loss and damage, and finance and capacity development. She outlined a number of actions being taken by diverse organizations to address migration and displacement due to climate change.

Peter Ricketts, Coastal Zone Canada and President, Acadia University, highlighted that efforts to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals are insufficient, and stressed that coastal adaptation to restore ecosystems must be integrated into watershed management and coastal management programmes more broadly. He lamented that climate change is outpacing adaptation planning, calling for innovative adaptation measures to get ahead of the accelerated impacts of climate change on global oceans and coasts.

Espen Ronnenberg, Climate Change Adviser, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), stated that the issues of loss and damage and of displacement have not made much progress in climate negotiations under the UNFCCC. He said that Pacific island countries have developed integrated approaches to waste management, biodiversity conservation, climate change and displacement. He called for urgent action to address the stress placed on large ocean states from the threats posed by ocean acidification, and sea-level and temperature rise.

Atle Solberg, Platform on Disaster Displacement, stated that the recommendations of the Task Force on Displacement under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage need to be situated in a network of policy areas, and expressed hope that the COP would adopt a related draft decision. .

Dina Ionesco, International Organization for Migration, stressed the complicated issue of connecting human mobility with climate change and oceans, and highlighted the need for a common language addressing the importance of oceans in the human mobility domain.

In the discussion, participants considered how to, inter alia:

  • broaden the discussions on climate and ocean action to include other sectors, such as migration and human mobility;
  • translate the science into concrete policy and action; and
  • carry out better risk assessment of climate change in coastal areas by examining “tipping points” for populations to be relocated.

Enhancing the Ocean Content of NDCs and Ocean Financing: This session was co-chaired by Tamara Thomas, The Nature Conservancy, and Rémi Parmentier, Director, Varda Group, and Because the Ocean Initiative. Parmentier noted that it is difficult to separate NDCs from oceans finance. Thomas said that ocean also applies to biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.

Eduardo Silva, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chile, outlined his country’s actions to promote the incorporation of oceans in the climate change negotiations, including participating in the Because the Ocean Initiative. He highlighted Chile’s efforts to integrate ocean action into the country’s NDC, pointing to the role of the ocean as a carbon sink.

Anders Jessen, Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, European Commission, stressed that the main priorities of the EU include: long-term control of ocean-related carbon emissions; preservation of oceans’ natural blue carbon function; and holistically emphasizing the ocean-climate nexus.

Jonathan Taylor, Vice President, European Investment Bank (EIB), expressed the EIB’s commitment to provide 25% of annual investment for climate change mitigation and adaptation, highlighting that innovative blue economy initiatives can drive collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Biliana Cicin-Sain, Global Ocean Forum, then introduced work on tracking finance for ocean conservation and climate action, carried out by John Virdin and Tibor Vegh, Duke University, as part of ROAC. She noted that in tracking public financing, they are initially looking at the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. She explained that the framework targets finance for specific ocean ocean mitigation, adaptation, displacement, and capacity-building measures. Outlining some findings, she highlighted that the GCF has funded adaptation in coastal populations, but has not provided funding to assist displaced populations. She underscored that the long-term goal is to work with finance institutions to continue tracking funding patterns related to oceans and climate.

Torsten Thiele, Founder, Global Ocean Trust, called for more private sector and NGO engagement to fully integrate ocean solutions into the climate finance sphere, and stressed the need to apply “scope, scale and speed” to finance robust ocean and climate actions, further calling for commercially viable projects to draw in blended finance. He highlighted the importance of establishing a global ocean infrastructure that includes oceans science, as well as manages the high seas and incorporates information for commercial users.

Participants then called for more tracking of EIB and other regional bank funds for oceans, mitigation and adaptation, among other issues.

The Other CO2 Problem – Towards Realizing Sustainable Development

The panel was moderated by Gemma Harper, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), UK.

Special Addresses: Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Undersecretary for DEFRA, UK, celebrated the UK’s commitment to coordinating global partnerships in ocean science to mitigate the impacts of ocean acidification and warming.

Ambassador Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, warned against the negative impacts of ocean acidification and warming, emphasizing that the ocean-climate nexus must be dealt with holistically within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Panel: Carol Turley, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, discussed the need for oceans to be included in countries’ NDCs and in the UNFCCC regime, and for communities to reduce local sources of acidification.

Manuel Barange reported on the recent FAO assessment of the impacts of climate change on aquaculture and fisheries, citing, as reasons for adaptation:

  • projected decreases in productivity;
  • species distribution shifts; and
  • acidification.

Sylvie Goyet, Pacific Community, said that ocean warming is having noticeable impacts on the Pacific’s tuna fisheries. She clarified that climate change impacts differ depending on oceanic regions, and calling for diverse responses.

Richard Delaney and Biliana Cicin-Sain, Global Ocean Forum, called for specific suggestions from experts to help incorporate ocean acidification into the UNFCCC negotiations, and noted the importance of monitoring programmes across coastal regions.

Jennifer Hennessey, International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification (OA Alliance), described the Alliance’s role as a hub for tangible, locally-tailored actions against acidification, pointing to action plans already submitted by its members.

IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Pörtner presented ocean-related insights from the IPCC SR15, including the risks to global food security from ocean acidification and warming.

Participants then discussed: policy decisions in the UNFCCC under uncertainty; long-term impacts of CO2 absorption in oceans; and strategies to keep mitigation on the minds of negotiators.

High Level Closing and Looking Ahead

After a stirring musical interlude, Atshushi Sunami opened the closing session, which was held in the Pacific and Koronivia Pavilion. He said Japan will be hosting the G-20 Summit in 2019 followed by the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, highlighting that these will serve as platforms for advancing issues related to the ocean-climate nexus.

Reports on Major Ocean and Coastal Zone Themes addressed at COP 24: Participants then heard reports on major ocean and coastal zone themes being addressed at COP 24. Hans-Otto Pörtner noted that sea-level rise, extreme temperatures and high humidity are challenges for the Earth’s habitability, underscoring that the need for political will is clear but that there is still a need to close knowledge gaps related to the ocean and cryosphere and their role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Highlighting that oceans also offer solutions, he stressed the need to integrate ocean actions into NDCs.

Carol Turley reiterated the need for unprecedented action in the next ten years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local sources of ocean acidification.

Dorothee Herr reminded participants that including oceans in the UNFCCC mechanism is not an objective in itself, and that neutral text about wetlands can also serve to protect blue carbon.

Isabel Torres Noronha, Future Ocean Alliance, insisted that the UNFCCC framework must coherently fill in gaps about oceans governance and protection.

Miko Maekawa stressed that displacement will become a growing concern in the oceans-climate nexus, and requires better partnerships and accelerated action.

Biliana Cicin-Sain drew attention to the increasing funds dedicated to climate change adaptation, noting the need for innovative sources of financing.

Taholo Kami noted that the UNFCCC Friends of the Ocean process provides a safe space for discussing and strategizing the way forward on oceans in the climate change agenda, and urged for increased political leadership on ocean action.

High-Level Perspectives on the Way Forward: Ambassador Helen Ågren called for divesting from harmful ocean and climate practices, reported on Sweden’s engagement in partnerships tackling ocean acidification, and underscored the need for more designations of MPAs.

Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia, stated that, at COP 24, everyone recognizes the importance of the ocean, highlighting her country’s commitment to combating destructive fishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and enhancing mangrove conservation. She called for multi-stakeholder efforts to address climate risks to marine life using economic models. She also referenced the extensive commitments made related to oceans and climate and other aspects of ocean protection and sustainable use at the 2018 Our Oceans Conference.

Patricia Fuller, Ambassador for Climate Change, Canada, listed the country’s commitment to eradicating ocean plastics through the Ocean Plastics Charter and other agreements.

Julia Feeney, on behalf of Patrick Suckling, Ambassador for the Environment, Australia, stated that Australia recognizes the value of blue carbon in ecosystems, and cited the importance of protecting coral reefs.

Isabel Aranda, on behalf of Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the 2019 Climate Summit, assured participants that oceans will be part of the Summit.

Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC/UNESCO, emphasized the importance of science in policy processes, particularly with regards to the upcoming IPCC SROCC.

Concluding Remarks: Tiago Pitta e Cunha reiterated the importance of safe spaces to elaborate ocean-climate policy.

Biliana Cicin-Sain noted that the Oceans Action Day had identified new knowledge in all major areas related to the oceans and climate nexus, and identified pathways on how to move further and faster in incorporating ocean issues into the UNFCCC policy agenda. She closed the Oceans Action Day at 6:26 pm.

Further information


Negotiating blocs
European Union
Small Island Developing States
Non-state coalitions