COP21 and Landmark Paris Agreement Boost Ocean Recognition

Date: 17th December 2015

Despite being the largest biosphere on Earth and a central component of the climate system, the ocean has not featured in previous UNFCCC COP meetings and has been largely ignored within the process. In an effort to the bring the ocean and its significance into climate discussions – both as a climate regulator and the impacts felt from global warming — the High Seas Alliance helped to support a team of advocates and communicators at the Paris COP21.

Some of the work undertaken by High Seas Alliance members and partners can be seen at, which was the public news face of the campaign at COP21.  Oceans Inc provided daily updates and news from the COP and spearheaded traditional and social media outreach (twitter feeds reached over 600 million people), with interviews of government leaders and representatives, as well as ocean advocates.

The new Paris Agreement includes recognition for the ocean within the Preamble and in the Agreement itself, under the banner of Ecosystem Integrity. Articles 4 and 5 provide that Parties should promote sustainable management, and “take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases . . . .” This provides a basis for further attention on the need for marine protection (as the ocean is one of the earth’s largest reservoirs of carbon) and should help to move the ocean onto the agenda for future meetings.

Temperature rise of 1.5C has been acknowledged as the highest increase tolerable to avoid irreversible acidification and to protect vulnerable ecosystems including coral reefs and vulnerable populations – particularly those from small island nations. A key message coming out of COP21 is that what happens next is as important as what has been agreed. So while the work has just begin, what is significant is that for the first time, the Paris Agreement commits virtually every nation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.

Building ocean resilience and preserving ecosystem integrity has been given much greater recognition through the COP and we expect this to increase the sense of urgency around securing a new treaty to protect high seas biodiversity.

The text of the Paris Agreement can be found here:

Cover photo by High Seas Alliance

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