Momentum for Including Oceans at COP21 and in the Paris Agreement

Written by Kaitlyn Lowder on .

“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!


First Impressions of COP21

Written by Mariela Brooks on .

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 and Blue Carbon: The Necessity of Preserving Marine Carbon Stores

Written by Natalya (article by Matthew Costa) on .

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.  

Are Stars Aligned for UN Climate Conference?

Written by Natalya on .

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

Introducing the Scripps COP21 Team

Written by Natalya on .

This year, 7 PhD students from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are attending the 21st UNFCCC COP, which is being held in Paris, France at the Le Bourget area. We will be working closely with professors, staff, and the director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the COP to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems and the role the ocean plays in mitigating climate change. We will also be working closely with several partners including the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Ocean and Climate Platform to raise ocean awareness at the Hot, Sour, and Breathless booth in the Blue Zone (official COP area) and the Red Zone (a public space adjacent to the Blue Zone). Follow along with us through our blogs and photos. We will be blogging about our experiences here and for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and also sharing our experiences through photographs and on Twitter. Additional information about the involvement of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at COP21 can be found at the Scripps COP21 website.

Get to know all the attendees in our group this year:

Mariela Brooks is a PhD student in Marine Chemistry at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her research is focused on the global carbon cycle and carbon storage in the ocean. She measures seawater carbon dioxide, its isotopes, and related values to investigate biological productivity and changing ocean biogeochemistry. She is also interested in learning more about policy and how to best integrate the science behind climate change into mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Yassir Eddebbar is a PhD candidate in Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. His research interests include climate and biogeochemical dynamics and their interactions, focusing on the influence of anthropogenic ocean warming and natural climate variability on the oceanic oxygen content. By participating in UN climate events, Yassir hopes to communicate and explore the implications of his research by engaging policymakers and the general public on the important role of the world's ocean in global climate change.

Natalya Gallo is a PhD student in Biological Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and a fellow of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. She studies how oxygen gradients on the continental margins influence the composition and function of the demersal fish community and is interested in how ocean deoxygenation will affect demersal fish communities and fisheries worldwide. This will be her third COP and she is continuing to learn about the role scientists can play in informing policy while working to raise awareness about ocean climate change impacts.

Kaitlyn Lowder is a PhD student in Marine Biology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She studies how crustaceans will respond to future decreased pH conditions--known as ocean acidification--and how these responses may affect their ability to defend against predators. Problems stemming from global carbon emissions, such as ocean acidification, can only be reduced through legislation and public action, so Kaitlyn aims to bring her research on local species to local community members and fishery managers. She is excited to connect with global leaders to share her knowledge and learn more about international policy-making.

Kirk Sato is a PhD candidate studying how climate change factors in the ocean affect deep-dwelling species. While his research focus is on marine ecology, Kirk comes to his first COP in Paris with a broad interest in how ecosystems and societies are being affected by and responding to climate change. Kirk will act as a Scripps photographer inside COP, and with accreditation thanks to the country of Chile, he will have access to various negotiation rooms and COP events. He will communicate his observations via the SIO social media outlets, as well as a new media project,, which will provide updates on the progress of the multifaceted text. 

Matt Siegfried is a postdoctoral scholar at the Institution for Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. A former NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow, Matt studies the motion of ice streams and glaciers in Antarctica, combining ground- and satellite-based data sets to understand how processes beneath ice streams and glaciers affect ice flow. He arrives in Paris for his first COP experience fresh off his fifth research expedition to Antarctica, excited to discuss the past and future changes of the Earth's ice sheets and glaciers.

Weijie Wang is a PhD student in Climate Science at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. She studies how African dust emission and Sahel rainfall vary on decadal time scales using satellite observations and climate models. Prior to joining Scripps, she worked at NASA Langley Research Center on the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy Team. This will be her first COP and she is excited to communicate with scientists and politicians worldwide about climate change as well as to learn what can be done to effectively mitigate the impacts of climate change on regional and global scales.  

An Infographic about the Ocean

Written by Natalya on .

The ocean covers 71% of the Earth and plays a critical role in the planet’s climate. With all of the research conducted by scientists and marine biologists, we still have only explored a small fraction of the ocean. However, we’re seeing the influence of human activities in almost all marine ecosystems we study. See how much you know about the ocean by checking out this infographic created by

Legal Challenges for Including the Ocean within the UNFCCC Process (and a solution?)

Written by Natalya on .

At this UNFCCC meeting, I attended the executive secretary briefing to observer organizations, which I found out about through the group RINGO. A small departure from the topic, but a useful fact for anyone else attending future meetings is to know about RINGOs (Research and Independent NGOs), BINGOs (Business and Industry), and YOUNGOs (youth constituency). These are constituency groups, of which there are a total of 9 within the UNFCCC process, and RINGO is the only group that doesn’t advocate as a group for any part of the process. These groups often organize useful meetings (such as this one) that provide greater access and insight into the process. I certainly wish I had known about them earlier.

At this session, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, offered to answer anyone’s questions in a small group environment, which gave me the opportunity to ask her an ocean-focused question. Specifically, I was interested in how the global agreement on climate change (ie. Paris Agreement) could appropriately include the ocean given the importance of the ocean in mitigating climate change, the high economic value of ocean assets (recently estimated to be $24 trillion), and the fact that oceans are incurring major negative impacts from climate change.


UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figureres gives an executive briefing to the research and independent NGOs

Protecting Marine Resources Through Innovative Financial Approaches: An Example from the Seychelles

Written by Natalya on .

One of my goals at this meeting was to reach out to delegates and discuss which ocean climate change impacts are of national concern for their countries. Ronald (Ronny) Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing States, was kind enough to share his thoughts on how climate change is affecting marine ecosystems in the Seychelles and how the Seychelles are enacting creative policy decisions that help strengthen ocean resilience to climate threats.

Interviewing Ambassador Ronny Jumeau at SBSTA 42 in Bonn

The Slow Crawl Towards Paris

Written by Natalya on .

For a different perspective on the UNFCCC process, this time I am attending the SBSTA 42 and ADP 2-9 UNFCCC conference in Bonn, Germany, which is taking place from the 1-11 of June at the World Conference Center in Bonn. I have been welcomed by sunny skies and warm weather in Germany and the venue is an inspiring center near the bank of the Rhine River, near the UN campus. After attending two Conference of the Parties and participating in a quarter long SIO298 class on the UNFCCC process this quarter, led by John-O Niles and Lisa Levin at Scripps, I am finally seeing through the maze and learning to navigate the UNFCCC meetings.

Delegates negotiating the text of the ADP in the Chamber Hall

An Infographic on the IPCC Process

Written by Natalya on .

Infographic courtesy of Cody Gallo. To read more about how IPCC reports are written and what the different summaries are used for, check out this interview with Dr. Hans-Otto Poertner. 

An Insider's Perspective on the IPCC Process from Dr. Hans-Otto Pörtner

Written by Natalya on .

Dr. Pörtner served as one of the two coordinating lead authors for the Ocean Systems chapter of the IPCC AR5 WG2 Report that was finalized and officially released in 2014. He is a professor in Integrative Ecophysiology at the Alfred-Wegener Institute in Germany and attended COP 20 to present during a special event on the AR5 Synthesis Report. In Lima, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Pörtner and hear about his experiences serving as a coordinating lead author for the Ocean Systems chapter, and ask about his perspective on how the IPCC reports are used by COP negotiators to arrive at decisions about national climate change targets. 

First, a brief overview – the IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was first established in 1988. Every few years, the IPCC puts out an assessment report that represents the international scientific consensus on climate change. Now, we are on the 5th full assessment report, called AR5. Each assessment report consists of 3 working groups that are released sequentially. Working Group 1 (WG1) is on the Physical Science Basis of Climate Change (and the final was released last year in 2013). Working Group 2 (WG2) is on the Impacts, Adaptations, and Vulnerabilities from Climate Change and was released in 2014. And Working Group 3 (WG3) is on the Mitigation of Climate Change.

The creation of an assessment report is a huge international effort. To put it in perspective, 308 authors from 70 countries were involved in writing the WG2 report that Dr. Pörtner contributed to, and the final version of the WG2 report is 1,820 pages long. Follow along with this infographic as you read about the IPCC process. 

Voces por los Océanos

Written by Sierra on .

Voces por el Clima, Voices for the Climate, bustled with Peruvians from all ages coming to learn about climate issues. The event featured sections dedicated to education about various environmental issues—sustainable cities, forests, mountains, clean energy and the oceans. Education displays combined traditional museum style exhibits with text with interactive art, touch screens, video, building activities and more. Students from the local University presented each display to visitors engaging them with the content and answering questions. Children ran through a forest of brightly painted trees, laughing gleefully. An elderly women moved robotically in front of a human sized ipod screen with remote sensor technology, her face pursed slightly in concentration. A little boy reassembled pillows made to look like stones, piling them carefully into a dam. Animated presenters attracted the audience with charisma and a message of us, the people, acting now to save our planet.

The Power of Babble

Written by Lisa Levin on .

Building G at COP 20 is filled with several hundred exhibitor booths. From 9 AM to 9 PM delegates stroll, peruse and learn. But almost none of these booths focus on the ocean. An important exception is the Hot, Sour, and Breathless Booth, sponsored by Plymouth Marine Lab, UK, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and CMBC, USA, and the Univ. of Santo Tomas, Chile. Here, COP delegates and observers can learn how excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming, acidifying and de-oxygenating the oceans. One-on-one conversations with delegates, press and observers allow us to have detailed, country-specific discussions of change in the ocean and the ecological and economic consequences. Our goal is to have the ocean highlighted in the negotiations and appear in the declaration text.

Students at the COP(arty)

Written by Jennifer on .

Yesterday, I was finally able to sneak away for a few minutes to peruse the other booths at the COP. I was interested in which other students were at the COP and what they were doing, so I ended up at the University of Michigan booth and was pleased to walk away with an invitation for a student mixer hosted by Vermont Law School and Washington University School of Law. With hosts like those, we were a bit hesitant to join as non-law students, but we’re glad we did.

Communicating Ocean Acidification Through Videos

Written by Natalya on .

Videos are a fantastic teaching tool: engaging, better at competing for today’s short attention spans, and effective at reaching many different audiences. Here are a few great videos we’ve come across that showcase the current science about ocean acidification. Read more to find links to the videos. 


Resources from the Hot, Sour, and Breathless Booth

Written by Natalya on .

Due to high popularity and customs hold-ups, we have run out of many of our materials at the Oceans booth. BUT... do not fear, all of these resources are available online and this post provides links to all the resources.

Learn how the biggest ecosystem on earth is faring in the "Hot, Sour, and Breathless - Ocean Under Stress" flyer and is available in several languages here.

Links to all the videos, including the Ocean Acidification: Connecting science, industry, policy, and public video and the claymation video on the other CO2 problem are available through links in this post.

The topics on the site provide information about Ocean Warming, Ocean Acidification, Ocean Deoxygenation, Arctic Sea Ice Loss, and Artisinal Fisheries Impacts

A Promising Focus on the Oceans Today

Written by Natalya on .

Usually my experiences at the COP leave me feeling like the ocean is extremely underrepresented at the UNFCCC level. However, today has left me hopeful that this is slowly beginning to change. Today was a good day for the oceans.

A Scientist... among Other Scientists

Written by Jennifer on .

The main reason why many of us are participating in the COP is because we are interested in bridging the gap between science and policy. As a natural scientist, I often think that if I make a logical argument it will convince people they should care about climate change impacts in the ocean. From personal experience, it seems to be a lot harder than that.

US-led Ocean Acidification Talks in Lima this Week

Written by Natalya on .

Tune in at 13:30 ET on December 3, 2014 to hear about how ocean acidification is impacting marine communities around the world and what the economic costs of these impacts are.

This side-event will be live web-streamed at and will be availble for future viewing as well. The side event is led by Dr. Libby Jewett who is the director of NOAA's Ocean Acidification program and she will be discussing the needs for an "EKG for the sea." The side-event will be started off by a presentation from Dr. Carol Turley, a senior scientist at the Plymouth Marine Lab, on the science of ocean acidification. I will then follow with a talk on ocean acidification in upwelling regions and the need for a mult-stressor perspective when looking at areas of the world where both low oxygen and low pH conditions influence marine communities. We are very happy to have a truly international perspective at this side event and two of the speakers (Dr. Nelson Lagos and PhD student Laura Ramajo Gallardo) are joining us from Chile. Dr. Lagos is the Director for the Center of Research and Innovations for Climate Change at Santo Tomas University in Santiago, Chile, and he and Laura will give some specific examples about the impacts of ocean acidification in Latin American counties. We will be giving RAPID 5-minute talks, so it will be a great opportunity to learn about the global scientific focus on ocean acidification and what we've learned so far about ocean acidification impacts.

We look forward to a great side-event! 

Ocean Acidification Side Event Flyer


A Return to COP 20 with New Energy and Excitement

Written by Jennifer on .

Yesterday morning the first members of our delegation (Lisa Levin, Jennifer Le, and Natalya Gallo) arrived in Lima, Peru. Sierra From the moment we arrived, it was clear that Lima was geared up and ready for the COP. We were immediately greeted at the airport with COP signage, helpers were displaying print-outs of the COP logo, and even the passport control officials were wearing pins about the COP.

Upon arriving at the COP venue, we saw all the new pavilions that had been built to host the conference this year. The venue location itself is very beautiful. Located on the expansive grounds of the Pentagonito, the Peruvian Army headquarters, the open-air venue offered evocative art displays, charming gardens, and a buzz of excitement from delegates from all around the world. The new pavillions are showcased in this video.

Evaluating the Success of COP19

Written by Lauren on .

By many people’s standards, the UN climate change conference (commonly called COP19) lived up to its expectations, or, to be accurate, its lack thereof. In predicting limited outcomes, the world had pre-destined it to be a complete failure. And just as naughty children usually tend to continue trouble-making behavior when their parents treat them as little tyrants, so, too, did the COP live up to its fate to deliver little on its objectives as it has historically done.

But was it really a complete failure? And what exactly were the objectives set forth?

Contact Information

Ocean Scientists for Informed Policy
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92083-0202