Chile Makes Good On Its Promise of an Azul COP

One of the major ways that this year’s UN Climate meeting is greatly different from previous ones is its recognition of oceans as a major part of the climate problems (with support from the findings of the IPCC’s recent Oceans and Cryosphere report) and also its solutions. Chile’s Foreign Minister, Teodoro Ribera Neumann explained today that Chile elevated ocean issues because they are integral to both climate change and to his country.   When she kicked off the meeting, Chile’s environment minister, Carolina Schmidt, launched the first official deliverable — an Oceans Solution Platform for nations to make public the concrete ocean actions they are taking to fulfill their Paris commitments.

Why This Matters:  The UN climate meetings in the past had failed to take oceans into account when looking at how to address climate change and that, frankly, was a major oversight.  The ocean has been taking the brunt of carbon pollution globally and sea-level rise is one of the most tangible and harmful ways in which people around the globe are experiencing changing climate.  But sea-level rise is just the tip of the iceberg — it is also negatively impacting fisheries, ocean biodiversity, and even its basic chemistry.  Good for Chile for “blueing” the UN climate meeting — and hopefully with the addition of ocean language in the meeting’s official decision document, it will become a permanently fixed there.

How Blue Is The COP?

There are signs of the ocean everywhere — literally.  The conference billboards and most of its branding is set against the background of blue waves.  Time’s Person of the Year and Climate Wonder Greta Thunberg’s cover shot is her standing on a rocky shore with waves crashing at her feet. There are more concrete ways it is “bluer” as well — for the first time the official meeting decision document will likely contain six paragraphs of ocean actions that will be carried out by the conference of parties  — this part of the agreement was notable because it expanded from its initial draft, something that COP veteran Susan Biniaz (a former U.S. negotiator) says never happens. Many ocean coalitions are forming across national boundaries — for example, a vigorous exchange has grown between organizations from California and the Patagonia region of Chile.  And many governments are committing to perform ocean conservation projects to fulfill their Paris climate commitments – like Canada’s announcement today that it will protect 25% of its ocean territory by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

2020 Is a Big Year For Ocean and Climate 

A leading international ocean conservation expert, Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defense Council told ODP, “[t]his Blue COP kicks off a big year for the ocean, with the high seas treaty due to be finalized [at the UN], and new protected area targets to be voted on in China at the International Biodiversity meeting in October that will mandate a target of 30% of the ocean protected globally by 2030.”  Next year’s UN Climate meeting will include a formal dialogue on the links between oceans and climate as part of the formal meeting — not just at side events.  It took years of work to bring ocean issues to center stage at these annual climate commitment meetings, but they seem to be here to stay.

One of the co-chairs of the IPCC Oceans and Cryosphere Report, Ko Barrett, put it this way, “I’ve been coming to COPs for 20 years and I’ve never seen the level of discussion or number of side events centered on the ocean that we are seeing in the halls here in Madrid.  People are more keyed into ocean science than ever, and the youth are using their platform to stress that science and oceans are a big piece of this.”


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