This is how to speed up ocean-climate ambition towards COP26

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Sanda Ojiambo, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact


  • Leading up to COP26, bold government policies and private sector leadership must reinforce each other to step up climate action.
  • Visionary private sector leaders are joining the Race to Zero and setting bold net-zero targets by signing the Business Ambition for 1.5°C commitment.
  • Governments can also lead with sustainable ocean management plans and incorporate ocean-based climate solutions in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

The ocean is vital to the well-being and prosperity of humankind. Ocean health is inextricably linked to planetary health and is a fundamental precondition to achieving all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The ocean has buffered the worst impacts of climate change by absorbing 93% of the heat trapped by rising greenhouse gas emissions and up to 30% of carbon emissions, at the expense of significantly deteriorated ocean health.

The ocean is not only a victim of climate change – it provides solutions too. Ocean-based climate solutions could reduce the emissions gap by up to 21% to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C by 2050, and the ocean’s critical role in climate change mitigation and adaptation are integral to this year’s COP26 considerations. In the global transition to a net-zero economy, low-carbon maritime transport and sustainable seafood, offshore renewable energy and nature-based ocean solutions represent key enablers.

To scale up collective global efforts to deliver on these ocean-based climate solutions, we need a positive “ambition loop” in which bold Government policies and private sector leadership reinforce each other to take climate action to the next level. Accelerated private sector action towards a net-zero economy has sent a strong signal to Governments, who can, in turn, amplify this private sector leadership with policies to provide companies with the clarity and confidence they need to catalyse further investments towards climate solutions.

Visionary private sector leaders are setting bold net-zero targets by signing the Business Ambition for 1.5°C commitment. These leading companies are demonstrating to Governments the viability of a 1.5°C-compliant strategy and scalable business solutions to support a systemic transformation. These companies are recognized as part of the critical Race to Zero.

The UN Global Compact supports and encourages companies to deliver the High Level Climate Champions’ target for the ocean: reducing their GHG emissions, while also publicly reporting actions taken to protect and restore blue carbon ecosystems, in order to reverse their loss by 2030. Biodiversity is critical to climate crisis solutions, as we still need to draw down excess carbon in the atmosphere. Reversing the loss of the blue carbon ecosystem, namely salt marshes, mangroves and seagrasses, will be an essential part of global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

People feel governments are not doing enough to address these challenges by the target date of 2030. Image: World Economic Forum-Ipsos

These ecosystems sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests, which make them significant net carbon sinks. Marine natural ecosystems can also help safeguard coastal cities, communities and businesses from a changing climate. Recognizing that climate resilience is fundamental to a company’s ability to thrive in the future, companies can showcase their commitment by joining the Race to Resilience.

Companies are also endorsing the UN Global Compact Sustainable Ocean Principles. Building upon the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, the Sustainable Ocean Principles provide a framework for responsible business practices in the ocean across sectors and geographies. This includes committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in operations to prevent ocean warming and acidification. Many of the leading ocean-related companies have already signed on, including A.P. Møller – Mærsk, Lloyd’s Register, and Cermaq.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Our ocean covers 70% of the world’s surface and accounts for 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can’t have a healthy future without a healthy ocean – but it’s more vulnerable than ever because of climate change and pollution.

Tackling the grave threats to our ocean means working with leaders across sectors, from business to government to academia.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a programme with the Indonesian government to cut plastic waste entering the sea to a global plan to track illegal fishing, the Friends are pushing for new solutions. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1372898575710101506&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.weforum.org%2Fagenda%2F2021%2F06%2Fthis-is-how-to-speed-up-the-ocean-climate-ambition-towards-cop-26%2F&sessionId=64d55ff56f1b34ee486ea97c439c4ca2c3327370&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

Climate change is an inextricable part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the shift to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, who have cut emissions in their companies by 9%.

Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Governments can amplify this private sector leadership by committing to a sustainable ocean management plan. Already, the 14 Heads of State comprising the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy have committed ‘to sustainably manage 100% of the ocean area under their national jurisdiction, guided by Sustainable Ocean Plans, by 2025’.

These leaders recognize that a sustainable, equitable and well-managed ocean is essential to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A well-managed ocean can sustainably provide the growing population with food, energy, transport and other opportunities for economic growth to benefit all of society, and in particular coastal communities. By providing a predictable environment for ocean businesses to innovate and grow, ocean management plans can mainstream investment in sustainable ocean industries.

While there are encouraging trends, there is still a significant ambition gap to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda, and the ocean will be a key lever. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Synthesis Report published earlier this year showed that current commitments are not nearly ambitious enough to keep global warming below 1.5C. To close the ambition gap, ocean-climate solutions can contribute to Governments setting and delivering on more ambitious goals and should therefore be increasingly recognized in NDCs.

The private sector is making significant progress. Efforts must be scaled up and translated into country-level action through collaboration with Governments, NGOs and United Nations partners. The UN Global Compact is leveraging this progress to further catalyse the ocean-climate ambition loop towards a successful COP26.

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