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Healthy Oceans Vital to Achieving a Low-carbon and Resilient World


World Oceans Day, celebrated annually on 8 June, is a reminder of the major role the oceans have in the health of people and the planet. While oceans have suffered heavy impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, they are fast becoming recognized as a vital ally in achieving a decarbonized and resilient world.

The second fully virtual celebration of United Nations World Oceans Day, on 8 June 2021, will highlight the theme of The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods. It also launches the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, with the aim of reaching Sustainable Development Goal 14, “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources,” by 2030.

Oceans are home to nature-based solutions to the climate crisis such as mangroves, tidal marshes, coral reefs and seaweed. Not only can they sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests, they can also help safeguard coastal cities, communities and businesses from the impacts of a changing climate

Healthy oceans are instrumental in regulating the climate system and are integral to achieving the SDGs, the goals of the Paris Agreement, and the ambition needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Moreover, it has emerged that just four ocean-based activities, if incorporated into countries’ climate action plans, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), can contribute to more than 20% of the emission reductions needed to keep the world on a 1.5℃ pathway. According to the report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), these include the protection of blue carbon coastal ecosystems; well managed oceanic and coastal fisheries; ocean-based renewable energy; and decarbonized ocean-based transport.

The recommendations complement the work of the UN High Level Champions, who in May released a cornerstone document for ocean-climate action in the same four areas. The report plots a pathway of milestones for ocean stakeholders to abide by in order to deliver a 1.5°C resilient world by 2050.

Closing knowledge gaps in climate adaptation in coastal areas

Existing knowledge gaps in adapting to the impacts of climate change in coastal areas can prevent particularly developing countries from taking necessary action. However, momentum is growing towards forming partnerships to close these gaps.

The Nairobi Work Programme (NWP) under the UN Climate Change Convention counts oceans, coastal areas and ecosystems among its priority areas. The NWP’s expert group on the ocean, established in 2019, has taken over the challenge of bringing ocean-driven action to the surface, bridging knowledge gaps that will support countries in strengthening their work on ocean and climate adaptation.

The third meeting of the expert group​, held on May 11-12, 2021, gathered members of more than 25 leading and diverse organisations to develop long-term strategies and actions that can support countries in building resilience. At the meeting, the expert group stressed the importance of strengthening linkages of the work under the NWP with existing initiatives for climate adaptation.

Part of the collaborative actions undertaken by the expert group was to develop a supplement to the UN Climate Change technical guidelines on National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). The supplement aims to facilitate access to funding from the Green Climate Fund for coastal and marine Nature-based Solutions, including ecosystem-based adaptation.

Other initiatives under the NWP

Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative (LAKI), which addresses challenges faced by the Pacific Islands at sub-regional levels;
UN Climate Change and Universities Partnership Programme, which provides opportunities for graduate students to work closely with local, national and regional partners. .

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