How COP27 reached an agreement that supports better ocean monitoring to stem the climate crisis

It was 1am on November 12, in a crowded meeting room on the outskirts of the COP27 climate conference complex in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. As co-chair of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), I joined

It was 1am on November 12, in a crowded meeting room on the outskirts of the COP27 climate conference complex in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. As co-chair of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), I joined representatives from countries around the world as they moved towards agreement on how to observe the changing atmosphere. , land and oceans more comprehensively to ensure the world can meet its climate goals. .

Tabled by representatives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the World Meteorological Organization, the agreement would help improve and support observation of the global climate system, including the oceans that control the climate.

Nations were prepared for these negotiations after the COP27 Earth Information Day event, which I moderated, but there was a hurdle: differences with a handful of nations for whom observation involved a careful examination of the hard-to-manage emissions imposed by the nations that were causing the most climate damage. It was frustrating not knowing if the global goal would be achieved. UNFCCC negotiators are back to the drawing board – working until dawn.

The following day, they emerged in weary triumph with an agreement on global observation. Shortly after closing the deal, they turned their attention to the challenges of next week’s COP deals. These invisible and often inglorious efforts underpin the essential work to bring nations to an agreement at COP27.

The carbon context

The global ocean contains 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere and absorbs more carbon than all the tropical forests on Earth. To date, the ocean has absorbed 40% of fossil fuel emissions through chemical processes known collectively as the ocean carbon pump.

The global ocean contains 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere and absorbs more carbon than all the tropical forests on Earth.

Although they have buffered human carbon emissions since global warming began, the process by which the oceans absorb carbon is changing at an uncertain rate. Coastal blue carbon ecosystems such as seagrass beds and mangroves lock up critical carbon stores in sediments and maintain rich biodiversity.

But the greatest carbon sink of all is found in the deep sea – the deep blue carbon embedded in the open ocean in the form of plankton, salts and organic matter. Deep blue carbon and the various associated ecosystems are difficult to observe due to difficult access, expensive equipment, and the fact that they exist beyond national jurisdictions.

This formal COP agreement provides a solid basis for nations to act and for decision makers to respond to the ocean observing community’s urgent call to invest in the international observing systems that will solve these problems. But these demands must be focused and united – and the scientific community is anything but.

Bridging the science and policy divide

Scientists, more often than not, need to focus on the technical details of their work, even when attending international meetings as large as COP27, to maintain credibility in their field. The intergovernmental work done by groups like the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice is often invisible to them.

This week at the Ocean Pavilion at COP27, Nigel Topping, the UK’s COP26 leader, criticized “the narcissism of small differences” in the climate community, pointing out how researchers, NGOs and even governments sometimes fail to reach consensus for climate action because of minor differences in their perspective.

At COP27, achieving net zero emissions is an urgent global necessity. Now is the time to act, and the private and public sectors, researchers and policy makers must work together to achieve this goal. Reaching net zero within this time frame will not be possible without a better understanding of the crucial mechanisms of carbon absorption.

Ocean and climate forecasters continue to struggle with growing uncertainty in climate models. But they can rely on strong frameworks from intergovernmental institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which forms the basis of climate information through regular global assessments. This is based on the careful compilation of scientific knowledge and a remarkable international consensus process that informs governments and other stakeholders of the climate trajectory.

At the international level, several UN agencies have brought together the work of nations to support and inform global action based on the latest IPCC analysis. The World Meteorological Organization recently launched a study group that is working to develop an international greenhouse gas monitoring system.

The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), led by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, has proposed monitoring programs, one of which — the Ocean Observing Co-Design Program — highlighted the importance of ocean carbon observations for the global community.

Emerging Technologies

Uncoordinated efforts threaten our collective ability to set, track and achieve climate goals. They can also hamper the development and scale-up of specific mitigations such as ocean-based carbon dioxide (CDR) removal. Although the use of this technology is sometimes controversial, it is essential if we are to follow what the IPPC says is now needed.

To be credible, CDR must be exceptionally well documented and carefully deployed. It must also grow fast enough to have an impact on the global climate. These competing demands are already causing tension within the community.

The London Protocol – one of the first global conventions adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 1975 to protect the marine environment from human activities – frames ocean CDR technologies such as ocean fertilization and alkalinity enhancement. oceans.

The need for an international climate observatory

So how do you harness the UN climate frameworks into action? A carbon or climate observatory could emerge as the first driver for a global observing goal as an observing system mandated by the World Meteorological Organization. It would provide data and measurements to improve the global understanding of the ability of the oceans to continue to absorb carbon.

Following a series of discussions moderated by Anya Waite (third from left), COP27 national negotiators agreed on the need to improve global observing.
(Sabrina Speich), Author provided (no reuse)

An international climate observatory would require leading nations to communicate, pool and coordinate their already substantial investments and expertise. Nations can build on existing initiatives, such as international telescopes or research from the International Space Station.

These commitments must champion the multiple intergovernmental initiatives under the UNFCCC while maintaining a strong dialogue with the growing private sector.

A new conversation is urgently needed to transform climate action – and the UNFCCC launched this conversation at COP27.