When I returned from the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt last month, negotiations were still going on and the events at the Ocean Pavilion in the conference Blue Zone were in full swing. The primary results of those negotiations were disappointing, as the parties failed to advance concrete actions to keep Earth from exceeding 1.5°C. Nevertheless, the conference did reach consensus on the creation of a loss and damage fund that will support communities most affected by climate change, an important outcome that strengthens the international resolve for action.
With almost 50,000 attendees, this was one of the most highly attended COPs in history. What I experienced inside the conference halls and dozens of pavilions amazed me for the diversity of people, issues, and views represented.
I was also deeply inspired by the commitment and energy on display at the Ocean Pavilion organized by WHOI and Scripps Institution of Oceanography leading a group of 18 collaborating partners from across the global ocean science and conservation community.
During COP, the Ocean Pavilion hosted more than 60 sessions that attracted high-level panelists and audience members to address a wide range of topics related to the ocean, climate, and society. It was also a vibrant hub of ocean engagement, where we estimate 15,000 delegates gathered throughout the two weeks of the conference to discuss ways that the ocean could serve as a source for solutions to the growing climate crisis.
As this was the first Ocean Pavilion ever at a COP conference, we heard time and again how excited people were that the ocean finally had a visible presence and a home at COP27, after years of efforts by ocean champions at prior COPs, and that excitement was palpable well beyond the modest footprint of the pavilion. The momentum generated by the Ocean Pavilion also helped influence negotiations, one result being that the ocean received its own section (XIII) in the final Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan. In addition, paragraph 26 of the plan emphasizes the need to address systematic observation and information gaps, particularly as relevant to climate risk assessments and early warning systems, something that WHOI and the pavilion partners are deeply experienced in enabling and well positioned to help support.
The success at COP27 is, however, only one step in a long-term effort to make the ocean more visible on the international stage, an effort that began long before this conference by a growing community of ocean advocates, and one that will continue for many years to come. The larger goal is to ensure that the ocean is recognized as being central to humanity’s plans to avert climate catastrophe and, more importantly, that science takes a central role in developing, evaluating, and enacting those plans with urgency and with care. The simple fact is that action without knowledge is folly and might even be dangerous—to humans and to all life on Earth.
The task before us is great, but if there was one compelling outcome from the Ocean Pavilion, it was reinforcement of the commitment that we must act now, we must act together, and the ocean is central to climate action.