What if a healthy ocean were our best ally against climate change?

By Loreley Picourt, Ocean & Coastal Zones focal point, Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action & Ignace Beguin, Ocean and Coastal Zones Lead, Climate Champions | November 5, 2021

The latest findings of the IPCC confirm we are in code red for humanity: the international community is failing to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), the ocean and its ecosystems are in distress, and the most vulnerable communities around the world are already facing existential threats from climate change.

Although the current outlook is bleak, the most important meeting on climate since the Paris Agreement, COP26 is taking place right now. This COP should be a real game changer for global political ambition to finally match the urgency of the situation.

In this challenge, a healthy and productive ocean is a vital asset to achieve a resilient, nature-positive and net-zero future. This is the stance taken by the High Level Climate Champions and the ocean community in signing the Ocean for Climate Declaration: a call to governments and non-state actors to scale up ocean-based climate solutions and action.

Imagine, in 2050, the scaling up of ocean-based climate solutions has contributed to reduce our CO2 emissions and limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Ongoing efforts to protect and restore blue carbon ecosystems (mangrove forests, sea grass meadows and saltwater marshes) have maintained their role in absorbing CO2. Ocean-based industries underwent a radical transformation: the shipping sector has made a successful zero carbon transition, the aquatic food industry adopted sustainable and climate-proof practices and energy companies are finally tapping the potential of the ocean renewable energy. We have succeeded in the race for zero emissions and slowed the pace of ocean warming and its consequences. The development of a sustainable and equitable ocean economy has contributed to employment growth, as well as global food and energy security.

Imagine, in 2050, holistic and sustainable ocean management has enabled ocean production and protection to go hand-in-hand.

The ocean is 100% sustainably managed, and one-third of its surface is effectively protected, which has rendered the ocean and its biodiversity much healthier and more resilient than before. The ocean still houses an abundance of marine life that supports the livelihoods and food security of billions of people. Effective conservation actions have preserved the potential of coastal ecosystems in helping to reduce the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, ensuring the safety of many human communities.

Imagine, in 2050, a vibrant and equitable ocean-finance system has preserved vital ecosystems, assisted in their recovery and built the resilience of the most vulnerable populations.

The financial policy and regulatory frameworks have been reshaped to support investments in marine and coastal ecosystem protection. Financial flows have been rechannelled from harmful activities to the development of ocean-based climate solutions. Science is receiving increasing financial support, giving it all the leverage it needs to guide global finance towards sustainable and innovative investments.

We have achieved a “just transition” and climate justice for all, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people, including people in Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The burdens of climate change and the benefits of a protected ocean are shared equitably and fairly, creating shared opportunities for the future.

It is the year 2050 and to the naked eye, the ocean looks much the same as it did three decades ago. Where none seemed possible, the international community took action by choosing to make the ocean an ally. 

This is the scenario that the ocean community and the Climate Champions want to believe and see at work for COP26: for the sake of the ocean, the climate, and all of us who depend on it.

Signatories to the Declaration: Marrakech Partnership Global Climate Action Agenda on Ocean & Coastal Zones, Ocean & Climate Platform; A.P. Moller – Maersk, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Antartica2020, APDL – Administração dos Portos do Douro, Leixões e Viana do Castelo SA, Aquarium Tropical, Association Française d’Halieutique, Campus mondial de la mer, CLIMAZUL E.E., Conservation International, Coral Guardian, DNV, ECHT, Esprit de Velox, Ethic Ocean, Europe Jacques Delors, European University of the Seas (SEA-EU), Expédition MED, Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco, Fondation Tara Océan, Friends of Ocean Action, Géo Avocats, Global Ocean Forum, Global Ocean Trust, Global Wind Energy Council, Grieg Group, Hilton Food Group plc, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Institut Marin du Seaquarium, Institut Océanographique Paul Ricard, Institut Universitaire Européen de la Mer, Interdisciplinary Graduate School for the blue planet, International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Knoll Printing and Packaging Inc., Lloyd’s Register, Lloyd’s Register Foundation, Maersk Supply Service, Mainstream Renewable Power, Marine Conservation Society, National Geographic Society, Nausicaa, Neographic Digital, Ocean As Common, Ocean Conservancy, Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, Ocean Unite, Ocean University Initiative, Oceano Azul Foundation, Océanopolis, Office Français de la Biodiversité, Ørsted, Our Fish, Peace Boat, Peace Boat US, Planet Tracker, Planète Mer, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Pure Ocean Fund, Rare, RespectOcean, SEYCCAT, Shom, Skretting, StormGeo, Sulubaai Environmental Foundation, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Sustainable Shipping Initiative, Tenaka, The Ocean Foundation, The Ocean Race, The Rich NorthSea, The SEA People, Tour des deux Amériques, Under The Pole, UNEP FI Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Initiative, United Nations Development Program, United Nations Foundation, UN Global Compact, Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Vattenfall, Waves of Change Coalition, World Economic Forum, WPD, WWF.
With the support of IOC-UNESCO.



A community’s fight for resilience: Saving Sri Lanka’s vulnerable marine ecosystems

As part of a new series to support the Ocean Breakthroughs, the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions and the Edges of Earth expedition explore how a community is adapting to and combating the impacts of climate change in the capital of Sri Lanka. The Edges of Earth team had the opportunity to spend two weeks living alongside Hafsa Jamel (pictured), learning about their work supporting local nature-based solutions that aim to mitigate climate challenges in their home country.


A global coalition forging coral reef resilience

In April 2024, NOAA and ICRI scientists confirmed the fourth global coral bleaching event, highlighting the escalating impacts of climate change on coral reefs. This has spurred initiatives like the Coral Reef Breakthrough and the Global Fund for Coral Reefs to enhance protection, double effective conservation areas, and mobilize significant funding for restoration efforts.