“Is there anyone in the negotiations representing the oceans?” The researcher from Brazil was glancing over the oceans pamphlet I had just handed her at our blue zone booth, concern hanging in her voice. She said she had read over her country’s INDCs and found specific mention of forestry, agriculture, and renewables, but no talk of Brazil’s thousands of kilometers of coastline connecting it directly to the ocean.
The short answer is no, our oceans do not have their own negotiators (despite covering 71% of our globe), but there are more oceans advocates than ever here as this Paris Agreement forms. While I wasn’t at COP21 for last week’s landmark Oceans Day and the numerous ocean-related events the Scripps Institution of Oceanography hosted, the climate-related services our oceans provide and the subsequent impacts they feel have certainly been highlighted this week. From Monday’s summarization of recommendations for including oceans during “The Importance of Addressing Oceans and Coasts in an Ambitious Agreement at the UNFCCC COP 21” to yesterday’s panel of Scripps students at the US Center, the oceans are continually popping up around the conference center.
Caption: NOAA’s Tom Di Liberto and Amanda McCarty join Scripps students Yassir Eddebbar, Natalya Gallo, Kaitlyn Lowder, and Matt Siegfried at a US Center panel highlighting current ocean and ice-related science. Photo credit: Kirk Sato, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Even more importantly, this dialogue has apparently been carried into negotiations rooms. As of yesterday’s draft, the preamble says the parties to the agreement are “Noting the needs and integrity of terrestrial ecosystems, oceans and Mother Earth.” While it is still unclear which country or countries advocated for this wording, it is likely they have had contact with Scripps’ Natalya Gallo. Natalya has been instrumental in building connections with many negotiators and ensuring they understand how they benefit from healthy oceans. While each country has slightly differing concerns, our Brazilian booth visitor knew that fish and shrimp stocks had been declining and was concerned that climate change could exacerbate these problems. The challenges facing these countries are not easy or quick to tackle, but the first step to making sure the global causes are addressed is voicing them at this COP and working to ensure they are broadly recognized in this agreement. As of now, we are thrilled about the current state of the text!
I arrived in Paris on Sunday morning, the day before the UNFCCC COP21 was scheduled to begin. After dropping off my luggage at my hotel, I hopped back on the RER B train to Le Bourget, where COP21 is being held. This being my first time to attend a COP, I wanted to get a lay of the land before the conference began in earnest. As the shuttle pulled up to the conference site, I was greeted by an impressive display of tall pillars representing the national flags of all of the many different countries attending COP21.
After collecting my badge and entering the central site of the Conference I began navigating through the various buildings and walkways and corridors that comprise COP21, and was continually struck by both the impressive size of the conference as well as the incredibly diverse representation of countries, organizations, groups, and collaborations. Since the official activities had not yet begun, the atmosphere was still relatively quiet; attendees trickled in throughout the afternoon, preparing the exhibits, booths, and meeting rooms, which would stage the deliberation and negotiation of the proposed Paris Agreement.
Mangroves, wetlands, and seagrasses store vast amounts of "blue carbon." In fact, mangroves store more carbon per area than other tropical forests. Mangroves and wetlands do not only sequester carbon but also provide important protection from waves and storms to low-lying coastlines. Protection and investment in these coastal ecosystems has received a fair amount of attention this year during side events at COP21. Matthew Costa is a PhD student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who studies the natural history, biogeochemistry, and microbial ecology of organic sediments in Baja California Sur's mangrove forests for his PhD. He joins us today to explain the importance of mangroves for carbon sequestration and describes some of the realities of working in these ecosystems. Further biographical information is found at the end of the entry. For further exploration of mangrove carbon storage potential in the Gulf of California, check out dataMares from Dr. Octavio Aburto's research group at Scripps. A special thanks to Matthew for the article and to Dr. Aburto for use of images.
"Excruciatingly slow going through one quagmire after another, daily inundation with fluctuating pressures, and a thousand buzzing distractions that continually hinder progress—no, I’m not talking about an international policy summit, but rather an expedition into a mangrove forest. These coastal wetlands have long had the reputation of being putrid and impassible wastelands, and I guess that many would not be too excited about stepping into a smelly, mosquito-infested swamp. Yet, when I visit the mangroves of northwest Mexico to do my field research, I know that I am visiting places of special value. Mangrove forests are rich with biodiversity, support fisheries, protect coastlines, and filter run-off. What’s more, they hide buried treasure… organic carbon.
The key to wetlands’ rich stores of carbon lie in the fundamental chemistry of life. Plants use the energy of the sun to combine carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients to build organic matter. Carbohydrates, proteins, and all stuff of life is ultimately generated as a result of this “primary production.” This process of storing solar energy in the chemical bonds between carbon atoms, removed from the air as carbon dioxide and stored in the molecules of living things, takes on a special character in wetlands. Here, the building blocks are abundant: carbon dioxide is found in the air everywhere, water and sunlight abound, and nutrients, carried downstream by rivers or in by the tide, are quickly taken up by the plants. As a result, capture of carbon dioxide and production of organic matter proceed relatively unchecked, making wetlands among the most productive ecosystems in the world.
This year, Scripps PhD students attending COP21 in Paris will be blogging our experiences for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read Yassir Eddebbar's take on if the stars are aligned for a successful treaty at this year's climate summit here.