COP21, Day 5: Oceans and faith

CCL at COP21, Day 5: Oceans and faith — two unappreciated resources of the climate change movement

By Naomi Lipke and Mairtin Cronin

Our experience at the COP21 has been a great opportunity to meet fellow citizens from across the world and begin to understand more about the climate negotiation process. Wandering through the Green Zone today, we could hear Mongolian throat singing, see a Japanese group walking around with white pom-poms and even eat Dim Sum! In a number of different rooms and pavilions, a variety of talks address a wide variety of themes every day, ranging from the provocative question of whether we can trust politicians with climate change solutions to the acidification of oceans to simulations of climate change negotiations.

You wouldn’t initially think that oceans and faith have much in common, but as we found out over the last few days, they actually do. Their similarity lies in the fact that both of them are increasingly being recognized as resources to combat climate change. Oceans have only been included as a major topic at the COP21 this year. Whereas forests have long been recognized as an important carbon sink, the oceans and coastal ecologies are just now being appreciated as carbon sinks. Similarly, faith and religious groups can mobilize their incredibly powerful moral and material capital to drive forward the transition away from a carbon-based economy. They can help to ignite the political will and moral indignation to give longevity and push us past economic obstacles. As Bishop Efraim Tendero from the Phillippines said, religious leaders “need to be more engaged than just prayer.” Notably, as Katherine Hayhoe proposed, exposing people to personal stories and appealing to their values and morality is more likely to sway a person’s opinion on climate change than simply numbers and scientific facts. Furthermore, Hayhoe noted that science can tell us that climate change is occurring and that humans are responsible, but cannot tell us how to react, because these choices are informed by values and ethics.


Similar to the lack of a religious presence in the traditional climate change movement, the important role of oceans in our ecosystem has long been underappreciated. Yesterday after a significant amount of confusion regarding schedules and daily themes, we confirmed that it was “Oceans Day” in the Green Zone (the space open to the public) at Le Bourget (the negotiations venue). Our marine biologist, Jérôme Chladek, emphasized that this is the first year that oceans have been a focus of the negotiations at the same level as rainforests, despite being a huge ecosystem. Previously, no one knew or appreciated the extent of oceans’ capacity to act as a carbon and heat sink. Up to 25% of the carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans. In addition, 90% of the excess heat from human activity has been absorbed by the oceans. Scientists did not even know that ocean acidification could take place with rising CO2 until the early 2000s! On Wednesday at the negotiations, there was some discussion of possibly designating larger marine protected areas and what the means might be for financing them.

Despite all of this, today the word “oceans” was taken out of the negotiation text, demonstrating that more work is needed to convince the world of the importance of oceans for the health of our climate. As one of the Global Strategy interns, Morgan Wood, pointed out today, the word “girls” was left out of the the Millennium Development Goals, which meant that there was no official UN mandate to focus on girls as opposed to women and children. So although it might seem like a small thing to leave the word “oceans” out of the negotiation text, this can have real impacts on what is funded and focused on.

Our experiences today emphasize the importance of incorporating new actors and new knowledge into our responses to climate change. It is too easy to focus on old solutions and old problems like national politicians and the importance of the Amazon forest. Although these remain relevant, we must open our minds to new solutions and new actors that promise to strengthen our combat against climate change.

Máirtín Cronin, is Pathway to Paris intern from Ireland and Naomi Lipke a CCL volunteer from the U.S., living in Denmark.

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.