What’s a COP21?

Paris, Eiffel Tower, COP21, Creative Commons, Paris Climate Talks
Can 195 Countries Ever Agree On Anything?

The answer is Yes! Last week 195 countries (an historic first) gathered in Paris, made an unprecedented agreement about climate change, and got a lot of news coverage – but what does it actually mean? It establishes an ambitious long-term goal to limit global temperature increase by no more than 3.6°F above pre-industrial temperatures, and striving for a limit of 2.7°F (1.5°C).

Where does the ocean fit into this? The ocean drives every aspect of why humans can live on this planet. Let’s cover a few quick facts:

1. It covers 70% of the Earth’s surface
2. Absorbs 25% of the CO2 released each year into the atmosphere by humans
3. Provides an estimated US$3-6 trillion to the global economy (UNESCO 2011)
4. Supports 90% of global trade through shipping
5. Feeds 2.6 billion people with their primary source of protein
6. And produces 50% of the oxygen that we breathe!

Most importantly, the ocean and climate are tied together. Climate change means ocean change, global warming means warmer oceans, and the agreement made at COP21 (Conference of Parties) is a win for the ocean.

Key highlights of the agreement and why it is good for the ocean:

1. “Each country will pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate.”

Ocean goodness: This agreement does something that has never been done before, setting a limit on temperature rise for the planet. This inherently means a limit for ocean temperatures, which is beneficial in protecting coral reefs from bleaching and preventing ice sheets from melting, among many other positive benefits for the ocean.

2. “Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”

Ocean goodness: This provision is very significant because it acknowledges the role forests play in offsetting our emissions. Healthier forests will absorb more carbon dioxide thereby giving the oceans a break, potentially limiting pH changes already occurring in the ocean and reducing ocean acidification in the future.

3. “To take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions”

Ocean goodness: It’s all about the money. If I’m a developing country and you’re a rich one, I need your money and knowledge to build a renewable energy source rather than a coal and oil power plant that may be cheaper initially. By requiring more developed nations to finance projects in less developed nations, they can skip straight to making their electricity with cleaner, renewable energy.

4. “To achieve a balance between anthropogenic (environmental pollution caused by human activity) emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.”

Ocean goodness: Little know fact, the ocean contains some of the best plants for absorbing greenhouse gasses! Seagrass meadows can store up to twice as much carbon as the world's temperate and tropical forests. Restoring and planting new seagrass (like our friends at SeaGrass Grow) will be an opportunity for countries to take care of their coastal waters and help absorb emissions.

More ocean talk needed!

In the 31-page agreement made in Paris, the ocean is only mentioned once. And yet our demand on the ocean continues to grow with over 50% of the world’s population living along the coast.

A healthy ocean will help save our planet. Boaters have the ability to report from the water, share the problems we see and celebrate positive changes. Whether sharing your passion for the ocean with your family or our policy makers, it’s time to let everyone know that the ocean is our future and that our future is blue!

Take Action:

  • Call or write your elected officials to let them know you think the ocean is a priority to protect.
  • Get involved: Join a local conservation group that does beach cleanups, lobbies politicians, or educates kids about the ocean – you personally can make a difference!
  • Support: Donations to an organization like Sailors for the Sea goes a long way to making sure that the work that needs to be done, gets done.