Ocean acidification and the political agenda

Chair: Zoë Hilton

Kirsten Isensee(1), Dorothée Herr(2)

1 Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO – Ocean Science Section, Paris, France
2 International Union for Conservation of Nature – Global Marine & Polar Programme, Berlin, Germany

Annually 25% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions are absorbed by the ocean. Consequently sea water is becoming more acidic. Ocean Acidification (OA) happens in parallel to ocean warming and deoxygenation. The interaction between these stressors is often additive or even multiplicative resulting in impacts that worse combined than either would have been separately. Changes in species growth and reproduction as well as ecosystem alterations will threaten food security, harm fishing industries, and decrease natural shoreline protection, thereby hampering climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.
Science coordination and observation systems are well advanced (e.g. GOOS; GOA-ON). The scientific results are however not adequately translated into actions as part of international policy regimes, e.g. UNFCCC.

OA can be reflected in and translated into international conventions and treaties using different opportunities.
The current INDC and SBSTA processes offer possibilities to create additional urgency to reduce CO2 emissions, and to reflect on the need of additional climate indicators alongside atmospheric temperature in the UNFCCC. A special IPCC report on the ocean could be another avenue to highlight issues regarding OA.
In parallel, ocean acidification is already acknowledged in the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway, which reaffirms, that it will affect ecosystem services and therefore human wellbeing.
The post 2030 agenda asks to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources’ (SDG14). Corresponding targets request to minimize and address the impacts of OA, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all level.


The recognition of OA in international legislation provides the basis for sustained research funding to improve climate forecasting and predictions efforts on earth. The incorporation of new targets and indicators within the post 2030 agenda and UNFCCC would lead to increased political recognition and national financial obligations to protect the ocean – the major player in climate regulation.