Knowing What We Don’t Know—Earth Information Day at COP22

Knowing What We Don’t Know—Earth Information Day at COP22

Panelists for Earth Information Day at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco (Photo credit: Jennie Sun)
Panelists for Earth Information Day at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco (Photo credit: Jennie Sun)

The one thing we can all agree on is that climate change sparks a host of complex questions. Besides the questions of whether it’s occurring in the first place and if we’re responsible (hint: yes and yes), the debate then turns to its repercussions—how is climate change affecting our world? Our oceans? People and ecosystems of all nations and coasts? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult—not to mention costly and ineffective—to fix something that you don’t understand (i.e. why Macs usually get replaced instead of repaired). Likewise, it will be very hard to effectively respond to climate change without collaborative scientific knowledge. Thankfully, this conclusion itself is common knowledge. The Paris Agreement, which became international law two weeks ago, reflects global consensus that “accelerating, encouraging, and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long-term global response to climate change and promoting economic growth and sustainable development.” With this seed of thought—as well as watering and care from the UN World Meteorological Organization—the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) 2016 Implementation Plan was born.

The plan was introduced to the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC at Earth Information Day on November 8, 2016 in Marrakesh, Morocco. In general, the day also provided an important “up-to-date picture of the state of the climate an outlook on future development and opportunities to take the most effective climate action.” The UNFCCC’s Newsroom went on to report that the event would “link the work of the science community, including systematic observation, to the implementation of the Paris Agreement’s goals and aims to provide key information.” In other words, the day provided an overview of an international blueprint in the works for building a scientifically-informed, sustainable future.

Vladimir Ryabinin, the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, speaks at Earth Information Day (Photo credit: Jennie Sun)
Vladimir Ryabinin, the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, speaks at Earth Information Day (Photo credit: Jennie Sun)

The event speakers made it clear, however, that construction on this vision needs to start soon—if not yesterday—given the rising urgency of climate change (and greenhouse gas emissions). Math might be stereotypically considered boring, but the statistics presented were downright depressing. Again and again, the experts established just how quickly our world is headed for climate apocalypse. The period from 2011 to 2015 was the warmest five-year period on record. Carbon dioxide levels passed a crucial tipping point this year as atmospheric levels remain above the 400 parts per million mark for the first time in human history. Since 2011, extreme weather events—especially heat waves—are ten times more likely to occur. And it’s not just land that’s affected. Vladimir Ryabinin, the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, said global warming is essentially ocean warming. “The ocean is getting hot, sour, and restless,” he claimed—bad news for a planet that’s 71% water.

To avoid drowning in doom and gloom, however, the panelists also made sure to discuss tangible, concrete solutions. Unsurprisingly inspired by the theme of the day, one strategy in particular resurfaced repeatedly throughout the event—an increased focus on technology and information. “Information can put us on a path to a sustainable future,” said Richard Kinley, the UNFCCC Deputy Executive Secretary. “Information is key to making the right choices for people.” In the same vein, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel representative Tose Tanhua discussed aspects of the GCOS implementation plan, particularly the importance of a “climate-quality ocean observing system” that incorporates cutting-edge technological solutions, from satellites to telecommunications to biogeochemical sensors.

Carolin Richter, the Director of the GCOS Secretariat, presents at Earth Information Day in Marrakech (Photo credit: Jennie Sun)
Carolin Richter, the Director of the GCOS Secretariat, presents at Earth Information Day in Marrakech (Photo credit: Jennie Sun)

Altogether, having a better sense of what we’re dealing with when it comes to climate change will have untold positive impacts on policy and sustainable development. But while knowledge is power, several speakers also pointed out other strategies worth pursuing. Ryabinin discussed the rise of interdisciplinary solutions based on the idea of a “blue economy,” which refers to the use of marine resources in a way that allows for sustainable economic development. As such, a blue-economy based solutions model would incorporate a variety of stakeholders, from local fishers to tourists. Carolin Richter, the Director of the GCOS Secretariat, simply said that one of the most important priorities going forward is financial. “We need to put our money where our mouth is,” she pointed out in her segment.

But perhaps one of the most important (baby) steps toward a sustainable solution is also the simplest—action. Not only did Kinley point out the perils of inaction, but he also stressed that everyone—from local, state, and regional governments, to businesses, to individuals and communities—has an important role to play in addressing climate change going forward. The blueprint of our sustainable future isn’t going to build itself. We’ll need to collect the tools first, and use them before they begin to rust.

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