The Ocean Solution
The final declaration of the climate pact post-COP26 finally acknowledges the ocean as the intangible link between climate and biodiversity. Is it too little, too late?
“Climate is the ocean; the ocean is climate; and for that meaning not to be at the center of an international strategy for our future may be the reason we are not getting anywhere with requisite urgency and success.”
The world’s attention has moved on from COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, the latest gathering of international leaders called to address the challenge of climate change. Greta Thurnberg, the young Swedish activist, described the outcome as ineffective, more “blah, blah, blah,” a curt dismissal of the final declaration as words more than deeds, as compromise of seriously delimited effect, and as a collective posturing of governors and industrialists, a new Davos — where resolve is mitigated by exception, progress is more fits than starts, and hypocrisy is revealed by goals unmet, objectives prolonged, and actions diluted by the inertia or outright opposition by special interests, public and private.
The press touted a new global agreement on methane, a plan non-binding. India and China were overt, in the end not supporting an ambitious agenda to reduce dependency of fossil fuels. Financial commitments to assist under-developed nations to meet the extreme cost of climate mitigation were made, but if previous such investments are indicative, the amounts and their timing will be too little, too late. In the end, COP26 may have been nothing more than an international collective expression of wishful thinking. The event seems already too long ago to matter, a new strain of virus, a break-down of the global supply chain, the sudden geopolitical threats to Belarus and Taiwan, the power of the markets and business as usual.
The ocean was, for the first time, acknowledged through official recognition of the “intangible” links between it, climate, and biodiversity, and the need to address them “jointly in international climate and biodiversity processes.” Article 60 of the final declaration, approved by some 200 State Parties as the Glasgow Climate Pact “invites the relevant work programs and constituted bodies under the UNFCCC to consider how to integrate and strengthen ocean-based actions into their existing mandates and work plans.” Article 61 calls for “an annual ‘ocean-climate dialogue’ to be held in June 2022 by the ‘Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice,’ to formally anchor the ocean within the climate negotiations.”
Climate change is a noun comprised by consequential verbs, past actions such as the burning of fossil fuels, flagrant consumption, and profligate waste, that are now proven to have altered the quality of our air, the pollution of our land and water, the acidification of our ocean, and all the resultant negative impacts on our food security, public health, financial stability, community development, and social disruption that can no longer be hidden from view, either far away our outside our front door.
For the first time, after all these years and international meetings, the ocean is finally included in the dialogue. Is it possible that after all these policy discussions and scientific studies that we have gotten it all wrong by a reversal of meaning , a misdirected focus on effect rather than cause? Climate change is a function of ocean change which is a function of an unchanging human behavior. It is a collective outcome of actions taken that can only be successfully addressed by attacking the income of such events. Climate is determined more by the ocean than by any other natural system. The water cycle of evaporation, weather, watershed, and return is the sole system of transport for climate, of whatever condition or degree. Climate is an abstraction composed of very specific realities that have for far too long been left unacknowledged and unaddressed. Climate is the ocean; the ocean is climate; and for that meaning not to be at the center of an international strategy for our future may be the reason we are not getting anywhere with requisite urgency and success.
In 1513, in his political treatise, The Prince, Nicolai Machiavelli wrote “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, that to initiate a new order of things.” That observation, made some five centuries ago, defines the challenge we face today. There is no time left for “blah, blah, blah,” and the young people around us know it. The international community must do much, much more that the resolve in the Glasgow Pact, to accept the difficulty, to transcend the doubt, to risk the danger, and to dare to move beyond incremental consensus toward a dramatic restructuring of international focus, law, and institutions that will vision a solution for climate impacts upon us by understanding that the ocean, and the freshwater continuum, is a context for change and a blue print for action.
PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. He is also host of World Ocean Radio, upon which this blog is inspired. World Ocean Radio celebrates 12 years this year, with more than 600 episodes produced to date.