The world is taking climate action at COP23

wsi-imageoptim-cop23The ocean is about to take center stage at the United Nations’ annual climate change conference in Bonn, Germany. November 11 is officially Oceans Action Day at COP23, when leaders of government, businesses and organizations around the world turn their attention to the sea that covers more than 70% of our planet.

Speakers at the international gathering will discuss how carbon emissions from human activities are changing the world’s ocean (and not for the good)—including impacts on marine wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture, and coastal communities. They’ll also explore science-based solutions, such as ramped-up development of renewable energy and ecosystem-based adaptation to the changes already underway.

Ocean Action Day includes a program at the U.S. Climate Action Center—the largest pavilion at the climate talks. Michael Bloomberg (the former mayor of New York City and a U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change) and California Gov. Jerry Brown will release a new “America’s Pledge” report detailing what U.S. states, cities, and businesses are doing to keep the U.S. on track to meet its Paris Agreement carbon reduction goals. They will be joined by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Laura Phillips, Senior VP of Sustainability for Walmart, to discuss specific actions to meet the emission targets established under the Paris Agreement.

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Bikes lined up outside COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by UNClimateAction via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

The day will conclude with a signing ceremony for the “Because the Ocean Declaration,” an effort led by Chile, urging nations of the world to protect the ocean as they map paths toward implementing the breakthrough Paris Agreement—the commitment, adopted two years ago by nearly every nation in the world, to reduce our emissions of heat-trapping gases. The island nation of Fiji is also leading a collaborative effort, called the Ocean Pathway Partnership, to give the ocean the prominent place it deserves in the U.N.’s ongoing climate conversations.

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The world is moving forward on climate

From Nov. 7-18, 2016, delegates from the world’s nations gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, for the 2016 U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP22. With the Paris Agreement—the strongest global commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases—now in effect, nations focused on how to meet reduction targets designed to keep Earth’s atmospheric temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s director of science, attended the conference to address how carbon emissions affect ocean health. Here, Kyle shares his reflections about the conference.


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A souk selling potpourri, spices, and yarn in the Medina district of Marrakech.

The skylines of Marrakech are framed by stark contrasts. There is the adobe-pink Medina, the ancient city and the heart of Marrakech; modern hotels and bustling urban roundabouts; and the massive, snow-capped Atlas Mountains that hold back the Sahara Desert. The people of Marrakech are mostly of Berber ethnic heritage, and the locals I met were exceedingly conversational, kind and curious.

Nearly 30,000 delegates, speakers, students and emissaries from scores of countries passed through security checkpoints to the tent city where the COP22 meetings were held. We were on the outskirts of town, in a district called Bab Ighli, next to extensive royal olive groves. The tent “rooms”—which became increasingly hot as the day went on,  with crowds of up to a few hundred people per room—were appropriately named after the seas of the world: Arctic, Mediterranean, Caribbean.

Following the landmark agreement at last year’s U.N. climate change conference in Paris (COP21), the Marrakech conference was expected to be a quieter, less exciting gathering focused on the business of implementing the Paris accord. But a few things happened on the way to Marrakech that elevated its importance.

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Re-writing the future for coral reefs

The Paris Agreement— the strongest global commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases—became international law on November 4. Ratifying nations from both the developed and developing world have gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, for the 2016 U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP22. Nations are now focusing on detailed steps to meet reduction targets designed to keep Earth’s temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

Today’s guest post, focused on the important role of coral reefs, comes from Kristen Weiss of the Center for Ocean Solutions—a partnership between Stanford Woods Insititute for the Environment, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.


“It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.” -Miracle Max, The Princess Bride

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A toadstool leather coral (Sarcophyton sp.) on exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Coral reefs have suffered from an intense global bleaching event that began in 2014, threatening more than 40% of the world’s corals and sparking environmental writer Rowan Jacobsen to write a controversial “Obituary for the Great Barrier Reef.” Global warming, plus last year’s El Niño event, are the key culprits in this mass bleaching.

Closer to home, reef habitats from Florida to the Gulf of Mexico have also been hard hit. Fortunately, despite this widespread devastation, there are still regions where at least some coral species have survived bleaching—in other words, where coral reefs are mostly dead, but still slightly alive. According to many coral biologists, that makes all the difference.

“In every bleaching event, there are survivors,” explains Professor Steve Palumbi of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. “Corals sitting right next to a bleached one that are not themselves bleached. Why? Do those corals just have the right genes? The right algal symbiont? The right micro-habitat? And do they give rise to the next generation of growing corals?”

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Rolling up our sleeves in Marrakech

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Kyle Van Houtan presents at the COP22 conference in Marrakech on Nov. 11, 2016. Photo by Beautifell Photography / Christine Ellman

The Paris Agreement— the strongest global commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases—became international law on November 4. Ratifying nations from both the developed and developing world have gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, for the 2016 U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP22. Nations are now focusing on detailed steps to meet reduction targets designed to keep Earth’s temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s director of science, is part of a panel addressing the ocean impacts of climate change. Here’s what he told the world.


At the turn of the century, I spent over a decade researching tropical forests. Most of this time was in Earth’s largest and most biologically diverse terrestrial ecosystem: the Amazon rainforest.

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“Amazon rainforest near Puerto Maldonado” by Ivan Mlinaric is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Tropical rainforests attract the attention of scientists, including me, because of two colliding facts: the astounding biodiversity they hold; and the alarming pace of their deforestation. Heaving with the breath of millions of unique plants and animals, the Amazon’s dense vegetation produces massive amounts of oxygen—an attribute that’s earned it a reputation as the lungs of our planet.

If we think of the Amazon’s trees as the lungs of the planet, then surely the ocean is its heart.

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COP21: A chance for a sea change

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. In light of COP21, Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to raise public awareness about the serious ways our carbon emissions affect ocean health, including ocean acidification, warming sea waters and other impacts on marine life. Today, as the conference begins, the Center for Ocean Solutions highlights the integral links between climate change and our global ocean.


The ocean is the heart of our Earth’s climate system, pumping heat and moisture around the planet. It’s also an incredible climate change buffer. As we burn more and more fossil fuels, the ocean absorbs much of that extra heat and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But that service comes at a cost. Sea levels are rising. Seawater is warming. And the ocean is almost 30 percent more acidic than it was 100 years ago. These changes are affecting much of the marine life people depend on: The ocean produces about one-sixth of the animal protein we eat and more than half the oxygen we breathe.

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