‘The stars are aligned for the ocean at the minute’: Q&A with Loreley Picourt

This is an important moment for the ocean within climate negotiations. We spoke to Loreley Picourt of the Ocean and Climate Platform to find out why.

COP25 has been nicknamed the ‘blue COP’ on account of the importance given to the ocean. To find out why the ocean is such a priority right now, we spoke to Loreley Picourt, Head of Advocacy and International Relations at the Ocean and Climate Platform.

What is the Ocean and Climate Platform, and why was it created?

The Ocean and Climate Platform was created in 2014 to prepare for COP21 and what was to become the Paris agreement. Within the ocean community we know that the ocean is one of the main climate regulators, but until 2015 it was not included in climate discussions. With the failure of the Kyoto protocol and the upcoming Paris agreement, there was an opportunity to build a coalition of scientific institutes, researchers, foundations and civil society to get together and discuss how to mobilize governments and heads of state to get the ocean included in the Paris agreement. The result of this big movement at COP21 was to get the ocean recognized as a crucial ecosystem in the preamble of the Paris agreement.

After the Paris agreement we decided to keep the Platform going and today it’s an international network with 75 members from the private sector, research institutes, aquariums, NGOs, and other national and international entities.

Now we’re advocating to get the ocean-climate-biodiversity nexus recognized as one and the same within different climate regimes, as well as in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the negotiations on the high seas. The three pillars of our environmental system cannot be addressed separately. 

COP25 has been nick-named the ‘blue COP’. What do you expect from it?

The notion of a ‘blue COP’ is a big win for the ocean and climate community. Chile – who holds the presidency of the COP – has always been a strong advocate for the ocean and for climate and ocean interlinkages. They’re key members of the Because the Ocean Initiative, which has grown from a declaration signed at COP21 to become a coalition of 39 member states.

There’s a lot of cooperation between scientists and member states to really make this a blue COP; the stars are aligned for the ocean at the minute. In addition, there are other mechanisms addressing the ocean and coastal zones as key priorities, such as the Nairobi work programme, and it’s one of the key themes of the global climate action agenda. And civil society has never been so mobilized around the ocean – there are over 100 events on the ocean being organized at this COP! 

You recently published a number of policy recommendations, including on science. Could you tell me more? 

The policy recommendations are out now in French and English. They address the ocean-climate-biodiversity nexus, and the measures required if we want to achieve the objectives of the Paris agreement. 

To start with, there’s one point that we need to re-affirm: The best thing for the ocean, the planet, or any of our ecosystems, is for countries to raise their ambition to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

Beyond that, the recommendations have been created around four key challenges to address the climate crisis: mitigation, adaptation, science and sustainable finance. Those four pillars can help us to achieve the goals that we’ve set, not only for climate but also for the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and all the different frameworks in place.

The last time we published policy recommendations was in 2015, and some of those recommendations have since been met, such as an IPCC Special Report on the ocean. So now we’ve updated our recommendations.

How were they developed?

We ran a multidisciplinary, international consultation, with more than 50 of our members from around the globe working on one document over eight months. Getting consensus was not always easy, because the Platform includes members working within the shipping industry, or on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and different advocacy groups, but we managed to get all these people around the same table to agree.

The recommendations draw on some of the latest evidence that went into the IPCC Special Reports on 1.5°C and on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

One of the recommendations is to build integrated observing systems and open-access databases to develop a coordinated and sustained ocean observing system, based on the Global Ocean Observing System. What would that look like?

When we talk about ocean science, it’s important to note that only 5% of the ocean has been explored. We actually know Mars better than we know our planet when it comes to parts of the ocean. For a long time, we’ve ignored some of the problems related to the ocean: you can’t always see what’s happening.

One of the key priorities for the Ocean Decade will be to increase understanding that we need better research, and we need to invest in research to better understand the functioning of the ocean – for example how the ocean absorbs CO2. There’s a lot of amazing work being done but some of it is not being translated into information for decision makers or for the wider public. We’re trying to make sure this knowledge is available, and so we’re also advocating for this data to be open access and to go beyond integration of physical and chemical data to include biological and socioeconomic data. Nor can we exclude studies by experts in the humanities. The ocean has cultural, historical and social value, and these elements must be included in our research. 

What would it take to create an open data platform?

If we want an international open data system we need to work at the country level as well, and these kind of issues should be reflected in multilateral environmental agreements. The transfer of knowledge is extremely important for capacity-building, and it should be part of negotiations between developed and developing countries. But we also need to open the door to other actors and include private sector innovators in these discussions.

Scientific research is about sharing knowledge, and that should not have a price. We work with a lot of scientists and many of them are absolutely ready to have this discussion. This is one of the topics that we’ll bring to the table within negotiations at COP25 and within the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

Looking further ahead to the Ocean Decade, what are your key priorities for raising awareness in the science community, and what do you hope the decade will deliver? 

We published a report on ways to boost the ocean-climate nexus with the UN Decade of Ocean Science a few weeks ago, which goes into detail about priorities for science and for governance. The Decade has an important role to play in raising awareness and building ocean literacy. I also hope that it will get the political momentum that it deserves, and allow for an increase in funding for ocean research.

I have a policy background, and I believe that we need to make connections across the different international regimes. We have a climate regime, a biodiversity regime, and an energy regime, but when it comes to the ocean it’s very patchy – everything is spread out between different governing bodies and mechanisms. The Ocean Decade can help build bridges between the different governing and subsidiary bodies.

We’re also hoping to identify synergies between the IPCC and IPBES so that we have a common analysis of the impacts of climate change and other anthropogenic stressors on the ocean and other ecosystems. IPCC and IPBES have already announced that they’ll publish a common report in mid-2020 on the synergies and trade-offs between the need to protect biodiversity and to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The post-2020 frameworks for biodiversity will be revised next year, and some of the discussions are about Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)-like mechanisms for biodiversity. But if we actually got to that point, we’d need to look at synergies between the biodiversity and the climate regime. For example, we’re advocating for nature-based solutions that could be integrated in climate strategies to create positive synergies and reduce the duplication of efforts. Those two conventions should establish a dialogue to make sure that they’re aware of the different processes being in place already. 

What’s next for the platform?

At the minute we’re mobilized around COP25, but beyond that, we want to build political momentum and for our recommendations to be implemented. We’ll be working with the government of France, with whom we already have a good relationship, and we’re ready to work with national governments anywhere to explain what a more ocean-climate friendly society would look like. We’ll also be working on communications, promoting all the recommendations from the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere to make sure they’re translated into concrete measures at the local, regional and national levels. 

Photo: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS [Public domain].

This is part of a series of blog entries on the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (also simply know as the “Ocean Decade”). The series is produced by the International Science Council and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and will feature regular interviews, opinion pieces and other content in the run-up to the Ocean Decade launch in January 2021.

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