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Insights into Editorial: Why the latest IPCC report on oceans matters

Insights into Editorial: Why the latest IPCC report on oceans matters


A new report issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change paints a troubling picture of the world’s ice and oceans.

The ocean effects of climate change, from warming waters to ocean acidification to sea level rise, are already altering the weather, fisheries, and coastal communities. 

The United Nation’s climate panel makes crystal clear that the planet’s oceans, snow and ice are in dire trouble and the damage is causing harm to the people who depend on them.

Even with aggressive efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, many nations will struggle to adapt.


Present condition of Ocean and Polar regions:

  • All people on Earth depend on the ocean and cryosphere — the frozen regions of our planet.
  • Together they provide vital services to humanity, including food, fresh water and energy.
  • But they also perform critical services, including the uptake and redistribution of carbon dioxide and heat.
  • Yet, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere says human-induced climate change is harming the health and function of the ocean and cryosphere in a number of ways.
  • Glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking. Global sea level is rising at more than twice the rate of the 20th century.
  • The ocean is warming, becoming more acidic and losing oxygen. Fifty per cent of coastal wetlands have been lost over the last 100 years.
  • Species are shifting, biodiversity is declining and ecosystems are losing their integrity and function.
  • The strain on the ocean and cryosphere has direct and indirect effects, threatening human health, food security, fresh water and livelihoods.


Ocean Ecosystem has been deteriorating faster than ever:

“Over the 21st century, the ocean is projected to transition to unprecedented conditions,” the IPCC report says, with the exact degree of change controlled by the levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The IPCC report state that the ocean has already taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system since 1970, the surface is becoming more acidic, and oxygen is being depleted in the top thousand meters of the water column.

All those conditions are projected to get worse in the years ahead. 

Ocean scientist and former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco joins Ira to talk about the risks to the ocean, its effects on the global ecosystem, and how the ocean can also help to blunt some of the worst climate outcomes—if action is taken now.

The IPCC special report on the 1.5°C goal, for example, said it was possible to keep the rise in temperature to within 1.5°C, but for that the world would need to bring down its greenhouse gas emissions to half of its 2010 levels by 2030, and to net zero by 2050.

Net-zero is achieved when the total emissions is balanced by the amount of absorption of carbon dioxide through natural sinks like forests, or removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through technological interventions.



Way Forward: What can we do?

  • A relatively straightforward solution to curbing biodiversity loss, especially in the face of climate change, is expanding the global network of large-scale protected areas on land and ocean.
  • While highlighted by the report, the importance of this management practice is also old news.
  • Protected areas have been implemented for years to conserve marine ecosystems, and are now being implemented across the world.
  • Studies continue to show that strict protected areas, which limit or prohibit human use, safeguard biodiversity while also enhancing resilience to environmental impacts, including climate change.
  • Indeed, high-profile initiatives like EO Wilson’s Half-Earth Project argue that people must protect at least half of the planet to ensure human survival.
  • But protected areas are not enough. The report also highlights an even more challenging, yet crucial, component of the solution: Rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions must be achieved across institutional boundaries.
  • The global nature of the issue demands a globally coordinated effort toward ambitious cuts in emissions.



The new IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere makes clear that no action on climate change is not a viable path forward.

The United Nations Climate Action Summit, which convened intended to do that the goal of the meeting was to identify realistic plans toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent during the next decade and further to net-zero by 2050.

Seventy-seven countries announced efforts toward net-zero emissions by 2050. Multiple businesses voiced intentions to follow Paris Agreement targets to reduce emissions.

During the same time, trees and forests absorbed almost 11.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year from the atmosphere.

The sum total of these processes meant that land, and the vegetation on it, was removing about 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.

Widespread climate strikes, led largely by young people, are also a sign of a broader social response to climate change.