Efforts to observe, understand and protect the ocean as part of the wider international agenda on climate action and sustainable development have been given a boost by the One Planet Summit for the Ocean, hosted by the Government of France in Brest.
The summit on 11 February, attended by 40 Heads of State, was preceded by two days of discussions and debates marking the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. It boosted momentum ahead of a major United Nations ocean conference scheduled for June 2022.
The summit addressed four main themes: the protection of marine ecosystems, the fight against pollution, the fight against climate change, and ocean governance.
In one of many commitments, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a “blue carbon” coalition to identify and finance actions to protect biodiversity and preserve marine ecosystems and vegetation which help in the fight against climate change.
The world must ‘change track’ to protect oceans from the climate crisis, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message. He warned that the “ocean shoulders much of the burden.” It acts as a giant carbon and heat sink, it is growing warmer and more acidic, causing its ecosystems to suffer.
“Polar ice is melting and global weather patterns are changing”, the UN chief said in his video message to the conference in the northern French coastal city of Brest.
Increasing our knowledge and understanding of the ocean
The need to strengthen ocean research was emphasized as a core aim of the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
Arguing that “we cannot protect what we do not know,” President Macron asserted France’s intention to launch major scientific missions to explore the deep sea, as well as the creation of a foundation for the poles to better understand the changes they face.
The European Union has also pledged to create a “digital twin of the ocean” to gather knowledge and test scenarios for action, in the service of European blue growth and global governance.
OceanOPS, the Joint Centre of WMO and UNESCO-IOC, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, launched the Odyssey project to boost the Global Ocean Observing System and issued a Brest Declaration to mobilize support. It rallies civil society to unlock the potential of citizens, ocean race sailors, mariners, the shipping industry, NGOs and private sector, to ensure a more complete knowledge of the ocean and the atmosphere above it, delivering data for effective prediction of how the ocean and climate may change in coming years.
“2022 is the year we must stop the decline in the Ocean’s health. The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science underlies all our efforts in this regard and the Global Ocean Observing System is one of its most effective tools. I am thus super-excited about the launch of the Odyssey project and the prospect of met-ocean observations being made from yacht hulls around the world”, says Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean.
“WMO can trace its origins back to the need to provide weather information to mariners and an important part of that has always been observations on the open ocean. This initiative brings this concept into the 21st century. The data collected will enhance not just weather information and warnings for mariners, but also provide crucial intelligence on the state of the Earth system, improving forecasts and climate information for everyone,” says Anthony Rea, Director of Infrastructure at WMO.
This support for science was reinforced by UNESCO’s announcement to map 80% of the ocean floor by 2030, and by the transformation of Mercator Ocean International into an Intergovernmental Organization.
Mercator Ocean International and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) are key partners in WMO’s annual State of the Global Climate report, which includes information on ocean heat and acidification.
As part of wider initiatives to boost ocean observations, shipping giant A.P. Moller – Maersk (Maersk) announced the release of all historical and future ocean weather observations into the public domain for free use by the scientific community around the globe. The company says this will increase publicly available ocean weather data by 28 percent.
In collaboration with the National Meteorological Service of Germany, Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD), Maersk has installed automated weather stations on 50 of its vessels. While crossing the largest oceans, the vessels transmit live data helping forecast weather and climate.
The One Planet Summit for the Ocean is a major stepping stone on the path to the second United Nations Conference on the Ocean, in June in Lisbon. This seeks to assess the achievement of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.