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The Perspective – Ocean Takeaways from COP27

Photo by Alex Mustard // Misool Marine Reserve corals. 2018 Blue Park Award winner.

By Marine Conservation Institute Intern Alexandra Azevedo. This is the last blog in a series surrounding the outcomes of the COP15 summit held in Montreal, Cananda this past year. Click here for the second blog in the series.

Last year, the 27th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP27) took place in the city of peace, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The UNFCCC is an agreement that entered into force in 1994 between 197 United Nations countries to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.”[i] COP27 was the annual meeting of the main decision-making body to review progress toward UNFCCC goals.

Since 71% of the Earth’s surface is marine and 90% of the heat generated from human-induced carbon dioxide emissions has been absorbed by the ocean, it is critical that the ocean is at the forefront of the conversation about climate change; however, until recently, the ocean received little attention. To learn about the role of the ocean at COP27, I spoke with Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s North American Regional Representative and Global Policy Advisor, Mark Haver, who is a trailblazer in the youth-led climate movement and attended COP27. Haver noted, “In regard to the ocean discussions at COP, there were some things that were positive… there was some movement, but it wasn’t aligned with the ambition that we need to avoid a catastrophic climate future.” So let’s break down the key outcomes.

Mangroves in Nationally Determined Contributions

As part of the Paris Agreement, countries develop Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are national commitments to reduce emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change.[ii] Much like terrestrial forests, mangroves are incredible at capturing and storing carbon. Many coastal countries are beginning to realize that nature-based solutions, such as ecosystem protection and restoration, must include coastal ecosystems. “The global mangrove breakthrough is transformational for us to be able to support mangrove restoration and conservation, and more countries now than ever have mangroves as part of their NDCs” noted Haver.

Offshore Wind Energy

Haver reported that Japan, Germany, Colombia, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, the UK, and the US signed the Global Offshore Wind Alliance (GOWA) to boost offshore wind power and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Loss and Damage Fund

One of the major outcomes from COP27 appeared on the last day when the Parties reached a breakthrough agreement on a new “Loss and Damage” fund for vulnerable countries that are impacted by climate disasters. The new pledges, which total more than USD 230 million, will enhance resilience for people in the most climate-vulnerable communities by 2030.[iii]

Continuing to Bring Oceans to the Conversation

In addition to new agreements and commitments, new opportunities to incorporate the ocean into the conversation at COP27 were encouraging. Haver noted the ocean pavilion and climate justice pavilion, which were firsts at the meeting. The Ocean Pavilion hosted a variety of ocean conversations, including panel discussions on Blue Carbon and the urgent need for global ocean observation systems. There was also discussion of ocean literacy including “re-education” and “emotional learning” to encourage immediate action and engagement from all generations. The UN Ocean Decade (2021-2030) organized a series of events highlighting the need for diverse actors to collectively work across society, policy, and science to lead to climate action in the ocean space.[iv] “The climate justice pavilion can be helpful to the ocean space because it incorporates ocean plastic pollution as a part of climate justice. This is important due to marginalized groups being adversely affected by plastic production and pollution and will help them have the right to fight against the companies that are responsible,” Haver explained.

Looking Forward: We Still Need to Do Better

Although COP27 took steps towards addressing climate change, there is dire need for more drastic, immediate action. Ultimately, COP27 fell short on adaptation and mitigation commitments needed to make a large enough impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid an impending climate catastrophe. The commitments made and reaffirmed in Sharm el-Sheikh leave the world on track to experience temperature rise well above 2°C and edging toward 3°C.[v] Overall, Haver was disappointed by the conference: “I am not happy. We cannot wait for climate action like this. I hope COP28 we will be able to go beyond the negotiating rooms and leverage the talent of 30,000 of the world’s brightest ocean and climate leaders that are present to support implementation across all sectors.”

As COP27 closed, the world turned its attention to the “biodiversity COP”—the 15th Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Montreal, Canada ended on December 19, 2022 with the adoption of the Global Biodiversity Framework. One of the key pieces of this agreement was the adoption of the 30% protected area target with the goal of achieving it by 2030. Conservation organizations and scientists were unified in calling for the CBD to link the nature and climate crises together, warning that if treated separately, we risk failing to address both.[vi]  Marine Conservation Institute and many others will be focused on achieving this target and with it addressing the impacts of climate change to our ocean.

[i] Met Office. (2022) What is COP? Retrieved 7 December 2022.

[ii] UNFCCC (2022) Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). United Nations Climate Change. Retrieved on 3 December 2022.

[iii] United Nations. (2022) COP27 Reaches Breakthrough Agreement on New “Loss and Damage” Fund for Vulnerable Countries. United Nations Climate Change. Retrieved on 7 December 2022.

[iv] UNESCO (2022) The Ocean in the Climate Negotiations. Retrieved 2 December 2022.

[v] Hill AC. (2022) COP27 Didn’t Make Enough Progress to Prevent Climate Catastrophe. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved on 7 December 2022.

[vi] Christianson A et al., (2022) Nations Must Link Climate and Nature Crises, or Risk Failing To Address Both. American Progress. Retrieved 7 December 2022.

Rankovic, A., et al. (2022) Policy Brief – The Contribution of Marine Protected Areas to Climate Change Adaptation. (Retrieved January 2023).