High-level discussions and activities of the first major climate event in 2019, the Africa Climate Week, have now come to an end. As the first of three Regional Climate Weeks ahead of the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September 2019, this event, held in Accra, Ghana, was important for driving policy and national ambitions for the Paris Agreement in an African context, as well as promoting the Agreement’s “rulebook” which was successfully finalized in December last year at the Katowice Climate Change Conference.
Similar to the 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) at Katowice, Poland, the ocean did not feature as a key issue on the table at the Africa Climate Week. Yet the ocean is able to provide solutions and resilient pathways needed for supporting climate mitigation, adaptation, and biodiversity.
I was fortunate to participate as an observer in Katowice – my first COP experience – thanks to accreditation provided by Future Earth, as well as funding and capacity development training from the Global South Climate Scholarships for Youth. With multiple processes and meetings happening there, I attached myself to the Youth Constituency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (YOUNGO), and followed the recognition process of the main results of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C global warming, and ambitions to incorporate ocean issues in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – efforts by each country to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Submitted NDCs are far from enough and do not encompass sufficient adaptation measures.
Stronger focus on the ocean across multilateral processes and levels of society will allow us achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Without the ocean serving as a major sink for carbon dioxide and heat absorber, climate change would be proceeding more rapidly. Today, the ocean is also impacted by climate change and its consequences, from altered ocean ecosystems to increasing extreme weather events, which have pronounced meanings on the development, livelihood, and wellbeing of small island countries and developing nations that lie in coastal zones. The ocean is significant for climate protection, climate-related resource conservation, and social resilience.
As the global community and local actors reflect on how to move from “science to action,” while also working towards a more ocean-inclusive UNFCCC, collaborations have to be truly interdisciplinary, responsive, and intergenerational. Designing meaningful and lasting pathways cannot be done in isolation.
Young people and early career professionals across the globe understand the science-based evidence and targets for enhanced action on climate, ocean, and biodiversity, as well as fair transformations towards sustainable systems. More importantly, they are now actively contributing to negotiations and the interface between science and policy, taking on leadership roles and organizing, starting important conversations and shaping public opinion, collecting data to monitor progress, and demanding accountability and greater financing from governments and institutions.
Talented youth-led movements and groups like FridaysForFuture, YOUNGO, Seychelles Support Team, African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, The Youth Negotiation on Climate Change Convention, World Oceans Day Youth Advisory Council, CliMates, SIDS Youth AIMS Hub, Alliance for Future Generations, Climate Trackers, Care about Climate, Pacific Islands Climate Network, and the Talanoa Peru Project throw a spotlight on how young people have the ability to make a difference in climate and ocean action, and how they use their voice to create opportunities for strengthening their roles in sustainable development, as well as drive original ideas and their aspirations.
At Katowice, I was particularly amazed by the knowledge, ideas, passion, responsibility, openness, and meaningful contribution of young people like me – participating in strategy sessions and high-level bilateral discussions, lobbying and making policy interventions, and hosting side events. These were important in such a negotiation space that needs to rebuild trust, accessibility, and collaboration.
Ahead of the launch of the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate in September, and COP25 – which is expected to be an “ocean COP” – in December 2019, demographic partnership and coordinated efforts are required to harness enthusiasm and gather political support for the preparation and implementation of ocean-related NDCs.
Lewis Pugh, endurance swimmer and UN Patron for the Ocean, puts all of these in better context when he recently shared about his experience inside Westminster Abbey, giving the main address at the 70th Commonwealth Anniversary on March 11, “Our planet faces the greatest man-made challenge it has ever known. I believe that the solutions lie in our ocean . . . Together with our youth, we must create a future in which people unite to protect both the environment and each other. It is our only option.”