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Climate fight ‘unwinnable’ unless we protect oceans

Wednesday, 25 September - The launch of a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today highlights the urgent need for governments to protect the world’s oceans to win the fight against climate change.

Drawn from almost 7,000 papers by over 100 leading climate scientists, the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere represents the most comprehensive assessment to date of the severity of climate impacts on our oceans and frozen areas of the Earth.

The report details how unprecedented political action on climate and ocean protection is now required to avoid the most severe consequences of global warming.

Jessica Desmond, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace New Zealand, says this report tells governments to urgently slash emissions and increase ocean protection to avoid climate catastrophe.

"The science is sobering. The impacts of man-made greenhouse gas emissions on our oceans are on a much larger scale and happening more quickly than previously anticipated. This report highlights the urgent need for climate action and building the resilience of our oceans," she says.

"Governments and industry around the world must take decisive steps to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy and halve our carbon emissions by 2030; and they must deliver a strong Global Ocean Treaty next year, and protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans as marine sanctuaries.

"If they fail to do so, they are failing the millions of young people around the world who have been on the streets demanding a safe future in which they can thrive, including thousands of New Zealanders."

The report finds that stronger ocean protection is an essential piece of climate action, due to the services our oceans provide. Both the deep sea and coastal ecosystems perform vital carbon absorption services that lock away emissions, and have protected us from the worst impacts of global warming so far.

Desmond says we must protect these carbon reservoirs from industries that seek to exploit them.

"Destructive fishing, seabed mining and oil extraction are driving our oceans to the brink, at a time when we need all the natural carbon capture processes we can get," she says.

"Failure to act now will turn the ocean from friend to foe. If we can limit warming to 1.5 degrees through decisive action, the global sea level will be about 0.1m lower in 2100 than for 2 degrees of warming, saving at least 10 million people.

"But on our current trajectory, sea-level rise by 2100 could be close to one metre if global warming exceeds 3C, which is where current global government policies are taking us to. With 75% of New Zealanders living within 10 kilometres of the coast, this has very real implications for these communities."

The IPCC has also presented policy solutions to help governments. It points to the challenges of ocean and cryosphere governance systems, which remain fragmented and fail to provide effective ocean protection. Desmond says this can be solved with the Global Ocean Treaty on the table at the UN.

"A strong Global Ocean Treaty must be agreed in 2020 between world leaders in order for us to protect our oceans and tackle climate breakdown. Governments have all the information they need - what they must do now is act."

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