Scientists issue blunt warning; say oceans at tipping point

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A team of international researchers have issued a blunt warning to world leaders ahead of the November 2015 climate change negotiations in Paris (COP21) that the oceans are at the tipping point and that the climate agreements should be targeted at minimising the mounting toll on the world’s oceans to prevent irreversible damage.

In a paper published in the journal Science, a University of Queensland oceans expert and a team of international colleagues argue that there is compelling evidence that the increase in concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are resulting in ocean acidification and that this is bringing about fundamental changes in physical, chemical, and biological properties of not only our oceans, but the entire planet as well.

“This is posing growing risks to human well-being as well as threatening key industries”, said University of Queensland Global Change Institute Director Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.

The professor did add that there are solutions that be put in place if countries act decisively in Paris.

French National Center for Scientific Research senior scientist Dr Jean-Pierre Gattuso also voiced his great concern stating that while previous climate negotiations have more or less sidelined oceans, it is time now to bring about a radical change at COP21.

Researchers have given out warnings based on the 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 co-ordinating 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 30 November.