Paris Climate Agreement: Five years on, coastal management must now take into account the rising sea level

Author – Ocean & Climate Platform

The Ocean and Climate Platform was set up during COP21 and rallies close to 100 organizations around the world dedicated to the sea, including NGOs, research institutes, foundations, science museums and centres, private sector partners, national and international institutions, and state, regional and local authorities. It endeavours to foster scientific knowledge and promote solutions relating to the ocean in the context of tackling climate change.

Plenary session of the COP21 for the adoption of the Paris Accord, United Nations Climate Change Conference (Paris, Le Bourget).

Photo ©Arnaud Bouissou – MEDDE

The year 2020 was meant to be a decisive stage in the implementation of the Paris Agreement with signatory commitments revised upwards. Efforts made to date have been insufficient to limit warming to 1.5 °C and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Prospects for climate change remain alarming, especially within the context of the current world pandemic.

Nevertheless there are encouraging signs such as the many initiatives of civil society, companies and local governments, and the mobilization of citizens, in particular the younger generations. Dialogue between scientists and deciders has for its part greatly contributed to the role of the ocean and its ecosystems being included in the Paris Agreement. The ocean is at the heart of the climate system, producing oxygen, absorbing heat and capturing carbon.

Climate negotiations include the ocean at last

The IPCC’s 2019 report on the sea and the cryosphere clearly indicated that the world’s ocean is an essential lever in tackling climate change. The same year in Madrid during COP 25 – the ‘blue COP’ – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change formally included the ocean in its works, thus recognizing them as one of the solutions for tackling global warming. However such progress will only make a real impact if we achieve the goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Sea level rise will intensify

Faced with increasingly marked climate events, we must act quickly to limit human, economic and industrial impacts, and implement appropriate adaptation policies. The IPCC has said that by 2100, if we do not drastically reduce emissions, the level of the sea could rise about a metre and the associated extreme events are expected to become more severe and occur more often. Such weather events will redraw the world’s coastal regions, there where most of the population lives and continues to densify. For coastal towns and their surrounding regions, the challenges will be colossal.

Nature based solutions

Numerous solutions exist and must be deployed cooperatively. Sea defences are necessary, helping regions adapt and allowing for the relocation of populations and businesses, but they also impact marine life without providing any long-term guarantee of safety for the local populations. We also need to accept, when there is no alternative, to relinquish ground to the sea. Salt marshes, seagrass meadows and other coastal ecosystems are inexpensive and effective nature-based solutions for attenuating the force of the sea.

Build consensus rather than sea walls

While a rapid and massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions remains a vital goal, the priority over the coming decade is to ensure that threatened coastal regions adapt. The Ocean and Climate Platform believes that it is necessary to reinforce cooperation at every level, in particular on the basis of scientific expertise. This requires the development of a risk culture and the deployment of considerable information and awareness-raising campaigns so that our efforts to adapt to climate change become a shared challenge. A new race against time has begun. Today more than ever civil society, scientists and businesses must mobilize themselves alongside elected representatives to tackle, together, this risk that has become very real.