Conservation & Science

Let’s give the ocean a voice in climate talks

From Nov. 30-Dec. 11, leaders from more than 190 nations are gathering in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21. The conference aims to achieve a binding international agreement to slow the pace of climate change. If we as a global community take bold and meaningful action in Paris, we can change course and leave our heirs a better world.  Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to raise public awareness about the many ways our carbon emissions affect ocean health, including ocean acidification, warming sea waters and other impacts on marine life. Today, we offer some thoughts from National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle  and Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard on the critical role the ocean plays in human survival and the #OceanForClimate initiative.

Hard to imagine, but the ocean – the engine of life on Earth – has no voice in the current climate change talks in Paris. We can give it one.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is structured to address emissions of greenhouse gases within the territories of nation states. Despite the fact that the ocean is directly affected by rising temperatures and changing chemistry, it sits outside the conversation because it belongs to no nation.

COP21 logoIt’s an oversight with serious consequences – but an oversight each of us can highlight for world leaders. We can add our names to the #OceanForClimate petition organized by Mission Blue and its founder, Dr. Sylvia Earle, that will be presented to the negotiators in Paris.

By joining with scientists, citizens and ocean leaders around the world, we can help assure that the voice of the ocean will be heard, and the needs of the ocean will be addressed. It’s a matter of survival.

Here’s what Dr. Earle has to say about the role of the ocean in assuring that Earth remains habitable for humans:

“Quite simply, no ocean, no life. No blue, no green. If not for the ocean, there would be no climate to discuss, nor anyone around to debate the issues.

Wildlife and habitats that extend beyond national boundaries don't have a place at the table in climate negotiations. Photo courtesy NOAA.
Wildlife and habitats that extend beyond national boundaries don’t have a place at the table in climate negotiations. Photo courtesy NOAA.

“We have to represent those who are not at the table. We must give the ocean a voice! The most valuable thing we extract from our ocean is our existence. In the age of global warming, the ocean is experiencing unprecedented stresses: temperatures are rising, sea levels are inching up, the water is acidifying and corals are bleaching. Marine wildlife is experiencing more pressure beyond industrial fishing, pollution and other environmental stressors.

“Yet, there is hope: The ocean is the largest active carbon sink on the planet. Protecting the ocean so it can maintain itself as a functioning system means fortifying the planet against rising levels of greenhouse gases. The ocean deserves to be discussed hand in hand with climate. It is a crucial part of the solution.”

And here are thoughts from Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard:

“I believe that protection of our life support system is the single most important thing we can do to assure a future for the human species. All else pales in comparison.

Healthy ocean ecosystems support all life on Earth -- including our own. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder.
Healthy ocean ecosystems support all life on Earth – including our own. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder.

“Global climate change is surely the biggest environmental challenge of our time. Only in recent years have we begun to talk about the profound impact climate change will have on the future of the ocean. These impacts – sea level rise, warming, acidity and changing species distribution – are already happening right here in Monterey Bay. In the meantime, coastlines around the world will continue to be where people want to live, work and play, driving further human impact along the shore.

“The past century has been one in which we’ve taken the ocean for granted. We’ve used it as a place of endless abundance. And, we’re paying the price. But the good news is that the ocean is resilient, and I’m convinced that this century will be the one in which we’ll reverse these trends. We’ve already begun. We have examples all around us where negative trends are reversing as people take action for change.”

Add your name to the #OceanForClimate petition.

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