December 17, 2019

NWP Explores Knowledge Gaps in Ocean Adaptation

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

The Nairobi Work Programme on the ocean (NWP) held its 13th Focal Point Forum, which focused on oceans, coastal areas and ecosystems. Participants considered a scoping paper on the adaptation of the ocean, coastal areas and ecosystems to climate change.

The Forum is focusing on the topic of oceans this year, in accordance with the outcomes of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) 50. The Forum convened in conjunction with the SBSTA 51 in Madrid, Spain, on 6 December 2019.

The scoping paper titled, ‘Adaptation of the Ocean, Coastal Areas and Ecosystems,’ recognizes the ocean as an increasingly important topic of conversation under the UNFCCC and that urgent action is critical to upscaling interventions for coastal adaptation and resilience building. The paper states that approximately 70% of the 161 nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) submitted by June 2016 included “some mention of marine issues,” usually as a component of adaptation action or in relation to climate impacts. One-third of submitted NDCs included some ocean-related mitigation measures. The paper also reviews funding to support adaptation, adaptation practices, measures and solutions, and good practices.

The paper identifies nine knowledge gaps across biophysical, economic, social and technical ocean issues. First, the paper notes that limited knowledge about global ocean heat inventory leads to large uncertainties related to, inter alia: weather forecasts and prediction of hydro-meteorological extremes; long-term impacts of ocean warming and adaptation capacity on ecosystems and species, and related management and governance issues; and the cause and effect understanding of the impacts and risks caused by climate change at ecosystem, economic and social levels. The paper emphasizes the onset of instability of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland is the largest uncertainty related to sea level rise. It has the potential to increase and accelerate sea level rise by several meters in a few centuries, but there is uncertainty on regional seal level rise and the capacity of systems to adapt. Knowledge gaps related to redistribution of marine biodiversity include the migration of fish stocks, which might impact food supply and fishing rights.

Additional uncertainties relate to: ocean acidification; ocean deoxygenation; the interaction of ocean warming, acidification and deoxygenation, which may further affect species’ adaptation limits and capacities to adapt; extreme weather events, including gaps on thermal stress events and their impacts on marine ecosystems and species; harmful algal blooms (HAB); sargassum, which has been accumulating in the equatorial Atlantic and traveling by ocean current to the Caribbean; and the freshening of high latitude waters.

The paper identifies the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Ocean Conference, in June 2020, as key opportunities to advance climate and adaptation discussions. The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) is expected to promote scientific research and innovative technologies to ensure science responds to societal needs related to climate and ocean changes. The paper presents examples of actions to address adaptation-oriented knowledge gaps related to the ocean at global, regional, national and sub-national levels.

Discussions during the Forum provided inputs for refining the scoping paper and co-designing actions to enhance regional, national and local adaptation actions and address knowledge needs. The paper’s findings will be translated into concrete actions to close knowledge gaps on the ocean and coastal zones. Progress towards these actions will be communicated at SBSTA 52 in June 2020.