The thoughts of Paris have probably never been very ocean centric, being a good 150km from the nearest ocean. Yet at CoP 21 when the winds of change were blowing, and the ocean needed strong voice, Paris felt as far from the sea as ever.
The magnitude of current and future impacts of climate change on coastal and marine economies, ecosystems, and cultures are tremendous. Yet at Cop21, it never felt like Paris or the governments and leaders of the rest of the world were thinking much of the ocean. And this was an enormous failure to the 634 million people and the trillions of dollars of ecosystem services and economies that rely on functioning ocean ecosystems that live within a few feet of the coast.
Zig zagging through the halls of the Green Zone at CoP 21,, I couldn't help but notice the lack of ocean targeted booths. Sure the picture of the penguins and polar bears (disturbingly close to each other for any ecologist), plus the cool blues of waves behind 1000 type font declaring climate change is solvable, suggested that there was a large contingent of activists and scientists fighting for the oceans. But the inconvenient truth was that there were only 3 booths that bothered to show up (including the shell company for shell!). Hey, better than zero.
Of course the rainforests have about 2 dozen, plus a rep from every global NGO in the world, but who's counting? And it's true that my hero Dr. Sylvia Earle came to give another truly inspiring speech on the importance of protecting our oceans. Plus no one can forget President Tommy of Palau, who was the unequivocal MVP and ocean champion at these talks for standing up for small island nations. And there was even a whole freaking day of the conference devoted to the oceans! So what more could I have asked for?
well a climate agreement that actually did something substantial for our oceans would be nice
At the one ocean focussed event I was able to attend, French ocean leaders representing a myriad of science, government, business, and NGO groups had convened to declare how excited they were that the world ocean was included in the Preamble of the potential Paris accord. Unanimously they declared that without a doubt, this was the most attention and success that the oceans have ever received in the 23 years and 21 CoP accords. And that we should and needed to celebrate this a great victory for the oceans.
This epic victory: the oceans finally got their foot in the door.Too bad, it took 23 years for a name drop. 23 years. For 23 years, the enormous efforts of thousands of scientists, activists, businesses, and local and national governments to promote effective marine policy in the face of climate change and bring it to the international scale culminated in this one phrase:
"Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and noting the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change,."
not even a full clause...
Without too much surprise the oceans were an afterthought, per usual.
And the even more unfortunate truth was that getting out foot in the door was definitely the easy part. Because now it's up to the nations, states, local governments, activists and NGOs, businesses, and scientists of the world to make the massive and revolutionary shifts needed to protect and grow our ocean economies and ecosystems without any international leadership. The real success was always going to be at the local level; boots on the ground. But I was hoping that there would be some serious support. Instead it will be on the shoulders of hundreds of marine scientists (including myself) to conduct research in the upcoming decades to understand how we can keep our ocean ecosystems resilient, and how our ocean ecosystems can keep our climate and our economies resilient. It will be on the shoulders of the thousands of activists, local governments, and businesses to implement the necessary science based policies to promote blue carbon storage, improve the resilience of their coasts, and enhance and protect coastal economies. It will have to be on the combined actions of these little drops in the bucket that can and must add up to the ocean of change needed to protect our marine ecosystems and economies.
The building momentum for change that came before and after the talks is what gives me hope that the Paris climate talks were not a failure and that these negotiations will serve as a catalyst for the true change that our oceans and coastal communities deserve. But the lack of direction, clarity, and support for protecting and supporting ocean ecosystems and economies worries.
As I reflect back on Paris, I can't help but feel a little cynical about where we are headed. Those three lone unmanned ocean booths. The scarcity of ocean panels and activism. The fact that my heroic elected leaders from both the State and Federal level never took a public fight for oceans, or even mention the need to focus on their role in climate change and the risks our marine economies face. I can't help but feel that Paris is and was a full 20,000 leagues from the sea and another 80,000 leagues from where I hoped it would go.
What makes this so frustrating is that the US and California, who are leaders in the fight against climate change, were not public champions or leaders for our oceans in Paris. At home, we have some of the best marine policies and conservation on the planet. We have amazing marine scientists and incredible conservation, advocacy, and research institutions including NOAA, EPA, Oceania, Surfrider, Health the Bay, Woods Hole, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Stanford, UCLA, the list goes on and on. And yes many of these players and representatives came to the conference and were instrumental in advocating for 1.5 C and bringing together regional governments to take fierce action on carbon emissions. Yet surprisingly the US or California as a whole were in no way shape or form leaders in marine policy at CoP.
Despite the fact that the US has more ocean than any other country on the planet. despite that fact that the US is a global leader in marine research. Despite the fact that the US is at the cutting edge of marine technologies. And Despite the fact that the US has the largest naval fleet of any country on Earth by a ridiculous margin, the US has rarely ever been a global leader in marine policy. It's 2016 and we still haven't signed the Law of the Sea treaty! (It's been a long time since 1982). We only recently enacted our first large MPAs and it's not like the US has stuck its neck out on High Seas or Antarctic Treaties. This clear disconnect between what we do and champion at home at the local to national level and what the US does at the global scale is imperiling our oceans.
Now more than ever, the oceans need a strong leader. They need a leader with both political and economic might. And they need a leader with strong scientific knowledge and with a vision for an equitable and just future for our ocean ecosystems and economies. And the US is in the prime position to be the leader our ocean needs. President Obama and Secretary Kerry need to stand up and repeat what they have been saying and doing at the national scale to a global audience. They need to strive to set rigorous and ambitions goals to promote and protect blue carbon sequestration, protect our coasts and islands, expand ocean ecosystem resilience through expanded marine protected area networks, and enhance and engage maritime and marine based economies in both the developed and developing world. And we won't get the agreement and justice the oceans deserve until US leaders fight for it.
This time we couldn't get the UN negotiations any less than 20,000 leagues from the sea (in Jules Verne's own country damn it). But the US and the rest of the world better put the ocean straight into the forefront of the next negotiations or we have no chance to leave the healthy and vibrant marine ecosystems and economies that future generations deserve.