The international community is increasingly recognizing the importance of the ocean in regulating climate, as well as the dramatic impact climate change has on ocean ecosystems. The Roadmap to Ocean and Climate Action (ROCA) initiative was founded to further the awareness of the relationship between the ocean and climate, as well as promote the implementation of sustainable, science-based climate change policies that adequately consider ocean and coastal issues. Prior to the Paris Agreement in 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP 21), the ocean was rarely mentioned in UNFCCC outcome documents and discussions. Terrestrial ecosystems, particularly forests, received the bulk of attention related to mitigation policies. Omission of ocean issues from climate change policies ignores the nexus between the ocean and the climate, and comprehensive mitigation and adaptation policies should necessarily consider oceans and coasts.
The central role of the ocean in climate is clear. The ocean is the primary regulator of the climate; it has absorbed 28% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emitted since the late 1800s, and produces over half of the world’s oxygen. At least 10% of the world population depends on healthy fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods, and hundreds of millions of people depend on fish as their primary source of animal protein. The 183 coastal and island nations face unique challenges such as negative impacts from warming and acidification on fisheries, changing and eroding coastlines due to sea level rise, and increasingly frequent and intense tropical cyclones. Japan, for example, expects that 46% of its population will be impacted by sea level rise and coastal erosion in a status quo emissions scenario. These concerns are particularly dire for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), some of which face the possibility of losing their entire terrestrial territory without drastic emission cuts that limit warming to less than 1.5℃.
A growing coalition from the international ocean policy community organized at UNFCCC COPs in the last several years to bring attention to the importance of considering the ocean in climate change policies. This group had a large showing in Paris in 2015, where 46 partner organizations organized the Oceans Day at COP 21, which was attended by over 400 participants. Speakers highlighted the central importance of the ocean in regulating climate, as well as the dire need to address the impacts of climate change on communities that depend on healthy oceans to survive. Following the strong showing at Oceans Day and other ocean-related events, ocean ecosystems were mentioned in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, and the UNFCCC High-Level Climate Action Champions included the ocean as one of its priority action areas going forward.
Experts attending the Oceans Day at COP 21 drafted policy recommendations to provide a vision for action regarding oceans and climate in the five years following COP 21, with a sense of urgency in carrying forward the ambition of the Paris Agreement. 37 authors collaborated to write the Strategic Action Roadmap on Oceans and Climate Action: 2016-2021, which divided the policy recommendations into six interconnected themes: the central role of oceans in climate, mitigation, adaptation, displacement, financing, and capacity development. Each section discusses the current state of play both within and outside of the UNFCCC, financial considerations related to the issue, and possible opportunities to further sustainable, science-based policies within and outside of the UNFCCC.
Following the production of this Roadmap, members of this effort formed ROCA, launched at the Ocean Action Day at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco. The ROCA initiative’s mission is to further the implementation of the recommendations in the Roadmap through the collaboration of its partner organizations, which include Parties to the UNFCCC, NGOs, academic institutions, civil society groups, and philanthropic organizations. The actions of the ROCA initiative are coordinated by the Global Ocean Forum, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), the Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (OPRI-SPF), the Oceano Azul Foundation, Portugal, and the University of Delaware.
The ROCA initiative is preparing four reports to further its mission. The first, an annual report on Measuring Progress on Ocean and Climate Action, will review major developments on each of the 6 major themes taking place since the previous COP, and will be presented at the Oceans Action Day at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, on 11 November 2017. The second will be a review of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by SIDS and coastal nations that have included adaptation or mitigation actions related to the ocean or coasts. The review will provide guidance on how these actions can be supported and realized and is being prepared in collaboration with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The third will be a report tracking public climate investments in ocean actions, prepared with Duke University. The fourth will explore the development of a knowledge management or clearing-house mechanism to exchange knowledge and best practices in the 6 major themes of the Roadmap.
In addition to the production of reports to support the implementation of the Roadmap recommendations, the ROCA initiative is active in organizing the international community around various events. The initiative had a strong showing at the high-level United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, also known as the UN Oceans Conference. ROCA partners organized a side event emphasizing the strong linkage between the ocean and climate. Dr. Keita Furukawa, director of the research department of OPRI-SPF, and Dr. Yoshihisa Shirayama, Executive Director of JAMSTEC, highlighted the particular challenges to Japanese fisheries and the efforts of their organizations to address threatened food security across the region. The overall message taken from the side event was that ocean and climate issues must be discussed as a package, and that only ambitious, urgent action will adequately support adaptation.
There is a great deal of work left to do, and the ROCA initiative exists to ensure that the momentum created by the Paris Agreement does not slow down. The record sea surface temperatures, massive coral bleaching events, and stronger, wetter storms of 2016 and 2017 have added even more urgency to this mission. By maintaining the visibility of ocean issues in the climate change policy sphere, the ROCA initiative has already seen progress in the appropriate inclusion of ocean issues in the UNFCCC and beyond. COP 23 in Bonn will be led by a Fiji Presidency, which has announced its intention to foster an “ocean partnership pathway” that will support a call for a Programme of Work on Oceans and Climate Change by 2019. Going forward, the ROCA initiative hopes to see continued and increasing ambition from international, national, and local climate change policymakers that consider the sustainable management of oceans and coasts as a key component of comprehensive climate change mitigation and adaptation.