Feeling blue about climate change? That could be a good thing.
There are plenty of reasons to be glum regarding global inaction on climate change. The emissions gap. The lack of strong political will at COP25—widely hailed as the first “Blue COP.” A certain 17-year old trying unsuccessfully to educate a certain leader on basic science.
So how about some good news?
After a concerted effort led by the Pacific region, at COP25 all 197 UN member states decided to talk about possibly doing more for the ocean and climate. Hooray, right?
Wait, you’re not cheering…a decision to talk about whether to talk about climate action is not good news?
While the Blue COP decision was only procedural, it is a glimmer of hope for oceans and climate.
- The science on the relationship between oceans, the cryosphere, and climate change is frightening. Ocean ecosystems have already been punished by climate change and will sadly continue to see clear, measurable, negative impacts from the 50 billion tons of heat trapping greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere each year.
- While the ocean-climate science is clear, the response from the international climate change policymaking body (the UNFCCC) until now has been decidedly mute. While the UNFCCC has a lot to say regarding forests, grasslands, wetlands, croplands, and agricultural areas, it has never before taken any substantive steps on oceans and climate change.
- Negotiators decided in Madrid to invite countries and organizations to share their views on what the UNFCCC could or should do regarding oceans. When this same step happened for forests in 2005 under the auspices of REDD+, a tiny procedural decision led to billions of dollars in climate finance, a renewed sense of urgency for finding forest/climate solutions, and a massive infusion of new projects and programs in communities and nations around the world.
Many policy summaries of the COP25 outcomes (such as here and here and here) focused on trading rules, slipping political support, and the slow pace of the UNFCCC. None of these summaries even mentioned the major Blue COP 25 outcome. The UNFCCC is glacially slow compared to the problem. It is weighted down by the need for consensus in a polarized world. What is critical to remember despite the shortfalls is that the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement are the largest source of consensus on climate change, and the UNFCCC plays a critical “signaling” role to nations, foundations, businesses, and organizations. It has helped leverage and billions of dollars of new finance and coordinate action between sectors. So, if the UNFCCC decides to throw its weight behind action on oceans related to climate change, while the pace may be slow, the impact could be significant in the long run.
The question now is how many nations and groups will make submissions on oceans by the March 31, 2020 deadline. The number and quality of those submissions will determine the impact of the first Blue COP: whether it will be a small inconsequential wave on a beach of policy gobbledygook, or whether the ocean community will use this small victory, albeit a qualified and uncertain win, to push the largest global environmental treaty to take on leadership for the largest ecosystem on Earth.