IOC-UNESCO at COP21: Creating momentum for new climate commitments with Ocean and Climate Forum

On 3 December 2015, the ocean was at the heart of activities in the Climate Generations Areas, the biggest being the Ocean and Climate Forum. Organized by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, the Ocean and Climate Platform and the Global Ocean Forum, this full-day event brought together scientists, economic actors, civil society and youth representatives, as well as decision-makers, to debate on the link between ocean and climate.

The Ocean and Climate Forum involved over 100 institutional partners to present the objectives and common agenda of ocean-related events at COP21, with the aim to draw high-level political attention to the need for adoption of an ambitious agreement.

“We need to have all society with us, to make people feel that they belong to the ocean and the ocean belongs to them. The ocean is silent and we need to speak for it. We need to engage all Heads of State, scientists, negotiators, and businesses that are present at COP21. Communication is essential to sustain the ocean,” said IOC’s Executive Secretary, Vladimir Ryabinin, in his opening statement. 

“It is only through ocean knowledge and education that we will be able to progress. Inaction often comes from not knowing things. When we know things, we have no excuse. This is why the ocean will be what we make of it,” added Ségolène Royal, French Minister of Ecology, also present at the forum’s opening.

The different stakeholder groups in attendance then hosted an interactive debate divided into four panels to showcase the ocean as both an element of and a potential solution to climate change:

  • Science session: Scientists highlighted the issues and gaps to tackle and the research needs required to improve our understanding of the link between ocean and climate;
  • Youth session: Representatives were given the opportunity to share their vision of how to go forward on political and economic issues pertaining to adaptation and mitigation strategies;
  • Business and financing session: Economic actors discussed the sustainable management of a blue economy and the perspectives that the ocean offers in terms of climate solutions;
  • Institutional and decision-makers session: Ocean-related key recommendations were proposed to and by high-level State representatives to push forward the international agenda for a sustainable and healthy ocean.

Maria Damanaki, former European Union Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, went on to explain why countries should invest in the ocean’s natural resources: “Estimations say that we are going to spend around 3 trillion dollars, just in the next decade, to protect ourselves from climate change. Instead of building walls and dams like we are doing now, we should invest in nature. Mangroves can absorb 3 times more CO2 than trees. They are blue forests that also protect us against natural disasters.”

Among the participants of the institutional session was Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu, Minister for Environment and Culture of French Polynesia, who sent out “a heartfelt appeal from the Pacific island peoples”: “Limiting global warming to 2°C is simply unacceptable for our atoll, which is only 2 to 3 meters above sea-level. It is going to change our lives, our cultures, and economically speaking, people won’t be able to stay. The fact of the matter is, climate change is already affecting us.”

Lisa Svensson, Swedish Ambassador for Oceans, emphasized the fact that Sweden was the largest country per capita in the world in terms of contributions to the Green Climate Fund. She also announced her country’s initiative, alongside Fiji, to take leadership on UN Sustainable Development Goal 14. 

The Ocean and Climate Forum notably built on IOC’s months-long preparation for COP21, which started on 8 June 2015 at UNESCO Headquarters with the organization of World Oceans Day, in cooperation with the Ocean and Climate Platform. This day assembled Heads of State and 1,200 representatives from the youth, scientific community and civil society, and marked the start of global public education on the role of the ocean in the climate system with the launch of the Ocean’s Call for Climate.

The technical and scientific rationale that came out of the forum will be presented to decision-makers, leaders, and international institutions on the occasion of Oceans Day at COP21, on 4 December 2015.

Other side-events, such as film screenings and animations, from various members of the Ocean and Climate Platform accompanied this event in the Climate Generations Areas. IOC set up an ocean exhibition at the UNESCO Pavilion (3-4 December 2015), where the signing of a partnership with IMOCA, a class association which takes care of 60-foot Open monohulls, took place.