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COP26: why we'll be attending the climate summit to demand action for our ocean

3 minute read

With just a week to go until the UK hosts the world's biggest climate change conference, our calls for action must be louder than ever. We need global leaders to recognise the urgency of protecting our ocean and put it at the forefront of COP26 conversations. The climate change clock is ticking.

Great Barrier Reef Gary Yim

Credit: Gary Yim via Shutterstock

Why a healthy ocean is vital

The ocean covers more than 70% of the surface of the planet and holds 97% of all water on Earth. Yet, it's often overlooked as a powerful tool in fighting the climate crisis.

Marine and coastal environments such as saltmarshes, seagrass meadows and the seabed capture and store huge amounts of carbon (known as blue carbon). But when these habitats are damaged or destroyed they can’t continue to absorb or store carbon, which can then end up back in the atmosphere – contributing to global warming.

To reduce its carbon footprint, the UK Government must commit to protecting and rewilding our marine ecosystems in the same way as our woodlands and peatbogs.

The UK Government must commit to protecting and rewilding our marine ecosystems in the same way as our woodlands and peatbogs.

The UK’s saltmarshes and seagrass beds alone have the carbon storage potential of between 1,000 and 2,000km2 of tropical forests.

98

%

of carbon stored in the UK's seafloor is found in areas where there are no trawling restrictions

35

times

more CO2 is thought to be absorbed by seagrass than rainforests

25

%

of our carbon emissions are captured and stored by the sea

What we're calling for

In order to reach net zero – a key goal for COP26 climate discussions - the quantity of carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere and stored in natural solutions must increase. By protecting and rewilding ecosystems in our ocean, blue carbon stores will have increased capacity and ability to store carbon.

Protection

We need to remove damaging fishing activities like bottom-trawling from at least one third of our seas, to allow the seabed to store carbon and let nature recover. Find out about the current state of the UK’s protected seas on our Marine Protection reality checker map and by downloading our Marine unProtected Areas report.

Rewilding

We must restore habitats like seagrass meadows, salt marshes, shellfish beds and carbon-rich seabed habitats, to increase carbon fixing and storage, help nature recover and protect our coasts from floods and storms.

Investment

The UK Government must invest funds in the ocean - and nature-based solutions, including rewilding projects. With such a valuable climate fighting tool facing a crisis through pollution and man-made destruction, it's unbelievable that they're not investing in protecting and restoring our seas.

You can read more about this in our report – Blue carbon: ocean-based solutions to fighting the climate crisis.

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Credit: Shutterstock

What exactly is COP26?

The UN-led Conference of the Parties (COP) was set up nearly three decades ago to bring all nations of the world together to discuss climate issues.

Since then, climate change has gone from being a fringe concern to an absolute global priority.

When Paris hosted the COP21 in 2015, the momentous Paris Agreement was signed. Every country committed to working together to keep global warming to under 2 degrees, and aim for 1.5 degrees to minimise the devastating effects that climate change is having on our planet.

Climate change has gone from being a fringe concern to an absolute global priority.

World leaders set ambitious targets for reducing their country's emissions, with plans to be reviewed and updated every five years. Now that five years is up, which is why COP26 is such a pivotal summit.

What's on the agenda

In the run up to COP26 (delayed for a year because of the pandemic), countries have been laying out their new climate plans.

To keep the 1.5 degree target within reach, global emissions need to halve by 2030. Many governments, including the UK, have committed to reaching net zero by 2050.

They plan to achieve this by:

  • accelerating the phase-out of coal
  • stopping deforestation
  • speeding up the switch to electric vehicles
  • investing in renewable energy
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Credit: Image by Silas Baisch from Pixabay

What’s missing from the UK Government’s plans and promises is, crucially, the ocean. Investing in the protection and rewilding of the ocean would help the UK reach its emissions targets faster, and more effectively, than if we continue to just focus on solutions on land.

We’re delighted to be attending the conference in Glasgow in November, so we can speak up for the ocean and make sure that it becomes part of the UK's climate change solutions.

We’ll be urging the UK Government, and decision makers globally, to wake up and #ListenToTheOcean.

We're defending Marine Protected Areas

Learn more