Ocean data gap puts Pacific islands in peril

Children playing on a shore
Copyright: Vlad Sokhin/Panos

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  • Paris summit draft text calls for more climate data collection
  • This will aid local modelling and guide long-term adaptation efforts
  • But goal is not guaranteed to be in final document

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[PARIS] Pacific islands need to ensure that a goal to strengthen ocean data collection remains in the final UN climate deal now being negotiated so they can plan their survival, a meeting has heard.

Netatua Pelesikoti, climate change director for Samoan-based intergovernmental organisation the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, told a side event at the COP 21 climate summit in Paris, France, that existing measuring stations to collect atmospheric and marine data are too widely dispersed. This means small island developing states (SIDS) struggle to get any useful information on local conditions that could inform their strategies for coping with climate change, she said.

But the most recent draft of the proposed summit deal designed to lower emissions and help the world adapt to climate change makes only a passing mention of climate data collection. The document supports the goal of “strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research and systematic observation of the climate system, in a manner that informs the development and delivery of climate services and to support decision-making”.

“Huge gaps” in small islands’ ability to monitor these biodiversity hotspots must be filled if the vulnerable coastal communities that rely on coral reefs have any chance of adaptation.”

David Obura, Coastal Oceans Research and Development — Indian Ocean

This goal, however, is on the line as negotiators struggle to decide who should pay for extra data collection. SIDS negotiators must fight to prevent the sentence from being deleted during ongoing negotiations over the wording of the final deal, said Pelesikoti. Without better data collection, the local climate modelling that small islands need to guide their long-term adaptation planning will be impossible, she explained.

“We are here, willing to work with the scientists so we can access climate resources and observation data,” she told the event. “[This is] to make sure it is not research for the sake of research, but to transform it into management activities.”

The plea came during an event organised by the Ocean & Climate Platform, a consortium of research institutes and NGOs seeking greater recognition of the role marine ecosystems play in climate. The groups set out a series of policy recommendations for the Paris summit in a manifesto to better integrate oceans into climate negotiations.

In keeping with Pelesikoti’s call, the manifesto highlights the need to improve the scientific and technical capacity of vulnerable developing nations. It also identifies research gaps, such as on deep water systems, the effect of ocean acidification on biodiversity and the ‘ecosystem services’, such as food, that the oceans provide.

David Obura, coordinator of Coastal Oceans Research and Development — Indian Ocean, a research network based in Kenya, said that, for example, a network of biological sensors should be set up to study how coral reefs are responding to climate change.

“Huge gaps” in small islands’ ability to monitor these biodiversity hotspots must be filled if the vulnerable coastal communities that rely on coral reefs have any chance of adaptation, he said.

Obura agreed that an endorsement of systematic ocean observation in the final summit text could boost current efforts to set up such a coral monitoring network.

The manifesto highlights a proposal put forward by Monaco in February to request a special report from UN advisory body the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focused on oceans. This would be a good way to give policymakers access to the wealth of existing marine science, the consortium writes in the manifesto.

“It will help enormously if multiple conventions are pushing for the same thing,” they say.