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Our oceans are not spared from the effects of climate change

December 6, 2014

I attended a really interesting presentation entitled “What Goes into the Air, Goes into the Ocean” organized by the US Centre here at COP 20. 6 different speakers from all over the world each gave a very thought-provoking presentation centred upon the topic of Ocean Acidification, but each presentation was unique in the different aspect it covered.

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Some interesting points from the talk:
1. The Great Lakes in the United States are experiencing similar problems that oceans are currently facing, but differ in terms of The Great Lakes experiencing lower levels of water, unlike oceans that have seen a rise in water levels (problem of sea level rise).
2. About 40 tonnes of carbon are emitted each year and forests & oceans help to “clear” the atmosphere through the reduction and removal of carbon (carbon sequestration).
3. Ocean acidity has increased by 30% since the Industrial Revolution, but most of this increase occurred in the last 40 years. If this rate of change continues at BAU levels, it would take tens of thousands of years for ocean ecosystems to recover.
4. Ocean acidification impacts stretch far out onto land as well, affecting food chains and food supply. Also, cultural impacts are felt in communities that celebrate and/or are reliant on livelihoods related to fishing. For instance, in Peru, celebrations are held on “the day of the fisherman” and this is all about the lives of fishermen, their culture and their way of life. With ocean acidification threatening ecosystems, culture may also inadvertently be affected.
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What would be the role of the UN? Can multilateralism make a difference?
Since ocean acidification is a global problem, it requires nothing short of a global response. Adaptation and mitigation responses must occur across multiple scales and perhaps COP21 could be used as a mechanism for addressing global oceanic changes.  UNFCCC negotiations should perhaps have targets regarding emission and/or carbon dioxide levels instead of focusing strongly on temperature levels. Chemical concentration levels in oceans are often ignored, which results in ocean acidification as a serious threat taking a back seat in debates surrounding climate change.
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