KAIRO: Act now to limit global warming and save our oceans, ice cover

Saturday October 5 2019

An iceberg near the island of Kulusuk, southeastern shore of Greenland on August 17, 2019

An iceberg near the island of Kulusuk, in the Sermersooq municipality on the southeastern shore of Greenland on August 17, 2019. Human-induced climate change is causing adverse consequences on the seas and cryosphere. PHOTO | JONATHAN NACKSTRAND | AFP 

DR JAMES KAIRO
By DR JAMES KAIRO
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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate released in Monaco on September 25, 2019, had an overarching message, that the negative impacts of human activities are responsible for global warming that is affecting our oceans, leading to declining fish stocks, death of coral reefs, and rising sea levels that could displace millions of people.

The ocean and cryosphere—the frozen parts of our planet—play a critical role in sustaining life on earth, the same way that the open seas, the Arctic, Antarctic and high mountains do.

These natural features and systems determine directly or indirectly our weather, food and water availability, generation of energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, and our general health and well-being, culture and identity.

However, human-induced climate change is causing adverse consequences on the oceans and cryosphere.

Global warming has already reached one degree celsius above the pre-industrial level, due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions. There is overwhelming evidence that this is having profound consequences for ecosystems and communities.

Melting glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea levels to rise, and extreme coastal weather occurrences are becoming more frequent and severe.

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Meanwhile, ocean acidification is dissolving calcifying organisms such as corals and oysters.

The special report outlines climate-related risks and challenges that people around the world are exposed to today and what future generations will likely face. It presents options to adapt to changes that can no longer be avoided, manage related risks and build resilience for a sustainable future.

The assessment shows that adaptation depends on the capacity of individuals and communities and the resources available to them.

Ocean climate interactions

Although impacted by global warming, world oceans slow this process by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere., and the report assesses the potential for enhancing biological carbon capture and storage by oceans.

The focus was on vegetated coastal wetlands ‘‘blue carbon,’’ such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass beds that occur in more than 150 countries.

In addition to shoreline protection and fisheries support, coastal wetlands capture and store huge carbon stocks thus mitigating effects of climate change.

For instance, carbon storage in mangrove forests can be up to 1,500 tonnes of carbon per hectare that is much higher than most terrestrial ecosystems.

When degraded, coastal wetlands release the stored carbon leading to global warming. The report recommends ecosystem based adaptation as a cost-effective coastal protection tool that can have many co-benefits, including supporting livelihoods, contributing to carbon sequestration and the provision of a range of other valuable ecosystem services.

Climatic benefits of blue carbon ecosystems can only be a very modest addition to rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The maximum global mitigation benefits of cost-effective coastal wetland restoration is unlikely to be more than 2 per cent of current total emissions from all sources.

The IPCC special report—approved by the 195 member governments—provides new evidence for the benefits of limiting global warming to the lowest possible level — in line with the goal that governments set themselves in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Kenya’s commitment to the Paris Agreement

The Paris climate agreement of December 12, 2015, is considered a historic one. On April 22, 2016, some 177 nations, including Kenya, signed the Paris Treaty to limit warming to at least 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

Countries have made greenhouse gases (GHGs) emission reductions commitments in form of nationally determined contributions or NDCs under the Paris Agreement. These NDCs represent the core content of the Paris Agreement.

Each party to the Paris Agreement submits an NDC outlining what they are willing to do in transiting to a low carbon development path and climate resilient future.

For this reason, each party to the Paris Agreement is required to communicate their climate commitment, and report on the progress made, and support needed towards achieving them.

Kenya’s NDCs aim to make a 30 per cent reduction in GHGs emissions by 2030, relative to a business-as-usual scenario of emitting 143 metric tonnes carbondioxide emissions annually).

Achievements of the NDC commitments are subject to international support in the form of finance, investment, technology development and transfer, and capacity building.
The NDCs identified mitigation options as well as key sector vulnerability and adaptation issues for agriculture, water, aquatic and marine resources, energy, health, and the social economic context in general.

Under the forestry sector, establishment of forest cover of at least 10 per cent has been identified as climate change mitigation measure. Despite their high carbon sequestration rates and the multiple ecosystem services they provide, blue carbon ecosystems have not been integrated into Kenya’s NDCs.

But by not including blue carbon ecosystem in the NDCs, Kenya may be under- or over-estimating its GHG emissions.

There is a great opportunity to influence this policy decision so that blue carbon can be included in periodic NDCs revisions.

Dr James Kairo is Pew Fellow and chief scientist at the Kenya Marine Fisheries and Research Institute. e-mail: [email protected]

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