Will sea level continue to rise infinitely?

By Simon Lhoest

Hello IFSA World!

On Wednesday, I attended a really interesting side event about the necessary actions to maintain healthy and resilient oceans. The first assumptions are that water temperature is globally rising, as well as seal level. In parallel, the acidification of oceans is an important issue too. Oceanic ecosystems are also changing extremely rapidly in particular with the responses of ocean life (relocating, dying and dwindling). The key actions to implement are the following:

  • Keep global average temperature below 2°C above the Pre-Industrial Period to maintain healthy oceans and avoid too many serious changes which are already occurring;
  • Reduce non-climate change stressors in order to build resilience;
  • Pursue an IPCC Special Report specifically focused on Oceans to rapidly reduce the gaps and our vulnerability to a changing ocean.

With the current sea level rise observations and tsunami early warning systems, it is now possible to adapt to climate change in some ways, even if it is not enough.

An important part of the debate was also focusing on the notion of “blue carbon” (and also “blue economy”), which corresponds to healthy coasts which have absorbed carbon for millennia and constitute more than 50% of global carbon stocks. Moreover, marine ecosystems are lost seven times faster than land ecosystems. The adaptation based on ecosystems was also highlighted. It is defined as reducing vulnerability and enhancing adaptability by maintaining and restoring ecosystems.

In concrete terms, what is at stake for the oceans? First, 10% of the world’s population lives in low elevation coastal zone and 145 million live less than one meter above the high water mark. Then, three-quarters of all large cities are located on the coast. Ports are also key-nodes in global supply-chains and vital for global trade: over 80% of the volume of world merchandise trade (70% by value) is carried by sea – from port to port. Moreover, the ocean generates hundreds of millions of jobs in tourism, fishing, energy, shipping, biotechnology and many other sectors. The annual “gross marine product” totals at least US$2.5 trillion. Last but not least, fish and fishery products provide essential protein and nutrients to over 3 billion people.

It is then essential to talk also about the oceans when working on a global agreement on climate change. We can hope that COP21 negotiations will take all of those stakes into account.

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