Copenhagen Oceans Day participants say more focus on oceans needed
Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, speaks during a session in Copenhagen.
UD's Biliana Cicin-Sain, right, with, from left, Fadel Muhammad, Indonesian minister of marine affairs and fisheries; Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Prince Albert II of Monaco; Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency; and Karl Falkenberg, director general, DG Environment, European Commission.

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9:17 a.m., Dec. 23, 2009----Oceans Day at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) this month brought together 320 leaders from 40 countries, representing governments, U.N. agencies, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community, and industry to focus on the direct link between climate change, ocean health, and human well being.

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During the Dec. 14 event -- co-sponsored by the Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands, housed at UD -- world leaders affirmed the urgent need to protect the central role of oceans in Earth's life support system and address threats facing coastal and island communities.

The nearly 50 percent of the world's population living in coastal areas will suffer disproportionately from climate change impacts such as ocean warming, sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and ocean acidification, attendees said. The effects of such changes are expected to be wide ranging and include loss of food security and threats to the diversity of ocean wildlife.

“The powerful link between oceans and climate is too often a neglected one,” said Monique Barbut, CEO of the Global Environment Facility. “When you protect the oceans you protect the planet.”

Attendees also noted the need for climate talks to rely on marine research in addition to terrestrial and atmospheric science.

“Today, as never before, we better comprehend the connections between healthy oceans and healthy people, and the myriad interactions among land, air, fresh water, ocean, ice, and human activities,” said U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco.

In light of these concerns, Oceans Day participants underscored a list of important considerations for future UNFCC talks.

The group agreed that UNFCCC negotiating text should recognize that oceans, which make up 70 percent of Earth, play a central role in climate.

“Oceans are sources of food, industry, and energy,” said Prince Albert II of Monaco. “They are the lungs of our planet, precious generators of oxygen. They are indispensable thermo-regulators that attenuate climate change by absorbing (the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide).”

Participants also agreed that here is a need to craft an integrated oceans and coasts program within the UNFCCC by 2013 emphasizing the following major elements:

  • Proceed with utmost caution to ensure the continuing functioning of the ocean in sustaining life on Earth by adopting the most stringent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within a short timeframe to avoid disastrous consequences on oceans and coastal communities around the world;
  • Emphasize the positive contribution that oceans can play in mitigation of global warming, such as: using natural carbon sinks such as mangroves and kelp forests in coastal areas; capturing and storing carbon through injection into deep seabed geological formations; taking further measures to reduce air pollution from ships; and developing ocean-based renewable energy from sources such as wind, currents, and tides;
  • Provide sufficient funding to support adaptation to the effects of climate change for coastal and island communities that are at the frontline of climate change in 173 coastal countries; and
  • Create strategies in coastal communities and island nations that encourage ecosystem-based adaptation, increase the resilience of key coastal and marine ecosystems, and are implemented through integrated coastal and ocean management institutions and processes at local, national, and regional scales.

Additionally, the global oceans community will develop a comprehensive set of recommendations related to climate and oceans and coasts, said Biliana Cicin-Sain, co-chair of the Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands, and director of UD's Gerard J. Mangone Center for Marine Policy.

The recommendations will be the subject of discussions at the Global Oceans Conference 2010, to be held at UNESCO in Paris and co-sponsored by the Global Forum, the government of France, and UNESCO.

The Global Forum is housed in UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

Article by Elizabeth Boyle

Photos by Jonas Løvstad

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