In the early hours December 13 in Madrid, a new draft text was produced by the COP25 Presidency, containing a number of potential “landing zones.” These draft paragraphs in a document (known in the climate diplomacy circles as 1/CP.25) are the likely areas of legal convergence countries are debating as they work to wrap up the Blue COP.
In the new draft text of 1/CP.25, 6 paragraphs are dedicated to the ocean climate nexus. The text as of 6:00 am CET on December 16, 2019 is copied below for the reader’s ease.
33. Acknowledges the efforts of the President of the Conference of the Parties at its twenty-fifth session to highlight the importance of the ocean, including as an integral part of the Earth’s climate system;
34. Emphasizes the importance of ensuring the integrity of ocean and coastal ecosystems, in line with the Convention and the Paris Agreement, and their interdependence with terrestrial ecosystems;
35. Requests the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to convene at its fifty-second session a dialogue on the ocean and climate change to consider, in a holistic and integrated manner, how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action in this context;
36. Invites Parties and non-Party stakeholders to submit via the submission portal by 31 March 2020 their views on the dialogue referred to in paragraph 35 above;
37. Requests the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to prepare a summary report on the dialogue referred to in paragraph 36 above, and make recommendations based on its outcomes, including, as appropriate, on possible follow-up work;
38. Also requests the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to convene at its fifty-second session a dialogue on land and climate change to consider, in a holistic and integrated manner, how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action in this context, while ensuring complementarity with related processes under the Convention.
What has changed in 1/CP.25 from the document on the ocean-climate nexus released yesterday? The subtle differences represent a compromise between competing philosophies of what the UNFCCC is supposed to become in the future.
The Carbon Institute has heard rumors in the corridors, although not confirmed, that some European countries were opposed to an ocean-climate decision that would lead to new future agenda items. In some informal hallway chats, some representatives of Europe noted that COP is already bureaucratic, unwieldy, and complicated with its five distinct negotiating bodies, each with their 10-30 different and overlapping agenda items. Each agenda item added by a negotiating party or bloc requires a careful consideration of political capital. Furthermore, a decision that was simply about a COP process would mean that the UNFCCC remains too focused on talks (negotiations of text) and not action. Totally valid points, Europe.
At the same time, there is no doubt that forests, wetlands, grasslands, and most other ecosystems on Earth have received far more attention under the UNFCCC than oceans have, especially via the important IPCC greenhouse gas guidelines.
Unfortunately, so far, oceans have been relegated to the sidelines — the side events at COP25. Should the UNFCCC formally consider about how it can coordinate action on oceans? Absolutely. More than anything, the UNFCCC is a signaling body for civil society, governments, NGOs, and the private sector to take action toward the goals it outlines. The UNFCCC does not have a climate police force; rather, it builds soft power through leveraging credibility, transparency, and cultural and political values.
This is what the ocean-climate nexus needs now more than ever. The IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) makes clear that the world must direct orders of magnitude more resources and attention to supporting coastal communities fight and adapt to climate change, increase civil society and NGO involvement on oceans issues, and accelerate research, finance, technology, partnerships, and action.
Will this still-provisional ocean and climate text elevate oceans to the level they deserve within the UNFCCC? No. But there is still reason for optimism. 1/CP.25, if passed, would give countries and society at large the space and the platform to ask, “what more can the world do for oceans and climate?” If this text survives, it may have the potential to change the nature of the discussions about interactions between oceans and climate. Then, it will again be up to us to bring our best ocean-climate ideas forward and get to work.