Scientists warn ocean near tipping point

14 July 2015

International ocean scientists have issued a blunt warning to world leaders ahead of the November 2015 climate change negotiations in Paris (COP21).
In a paper published in the journal Science, a University of Queensland oceans expert and a team of international colleagues argue that any new global climate agreement must begin to minimise the mounting toll on the world’s oceans to prevent irreversible damage.
UQ Global Change Institute Director Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen had underestimated the likely impact of climate change on oceans, and a new more intense focus on oceans was urgently needed.
“There’s compelling evidence that increases in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases  are already resulting in fundamental changes to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of our planet,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
“This is posing growing risks to human well-being as well as threatening key industries; however, solutions are still possible if we act decisively in Paris,” he said.
French National Center for Scientific Research senior scientist Dr Jean-Pierre Gattuso also voiced his great concern.
“The oceans have been minimally considered at previous climate negotiations. Our study provides compelling arguments for a radical change at COP21,” Dr Gattuso said.
The paper draws on an extensive scientific assessment of the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans completed last year for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg was coordinating lead author for the Oceans section of that United Nations study.
He said the chemical and physical conditions of the ocean were changing at rates which were, in some cases, faster than any seen over the past 65 million years.
“There is also high confidence that many marine organisms and their communities and ecosystems are undergoing fundamental change as the world’s oceans warm, acidify and lose oxygen,” he said.
“While deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are a must, we must also agree to rapidly rebuild the resilience of ecosystems and people against the rising tide of change.
“We must work on the urgent issues of adapting to rapid sea level rise, transforming fisheries and the impacts of increasingly strong storms—all of which will help to reduce non-climate stresses on ecosystems and build resilience to climate change-related impacts.”
The Science paper warns that policy options for addressing ocean impacts (mitigate, protect, repair, adapt) are narrowing as the ocean warms and acidifies.
The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) will herald a week of climate negotiations in Paris on Nov. 30.

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