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What we don’t know can hurt us: achieving global net zero is impossible without the ocean

The ocean is the most important global storage depot of carbon on Earth. It holds 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere and soaks up more emissions than all the world’s rainforests combined. But the biology, chemistry and physics of the biggest carbon sink on the planet are changing - and we don’t know exactly how much.

Climate estimates do not include ocean changes and therefore have incomplete data. And yet, inexplicably, the North Atlantic’s vital carbon-absorbing function remains critically under-observed.

This gap is an unacceptable risk and represents potentially the most significant miscalculation of global climate change policy by the numbers.  

The Ocean Frontier Institute has a solution. A focused ocean observation effort will provide vital monitoring and offer accurate measurement of the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon. Such an exemplar would allow decision makers to benefit from near real time assessment of how the ocean is changing the global carbon budget. Data produced will also create the scientific baseline to measure the effectiveness of innovative technologies including Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). For governments and financial institutions, it is essential that investments are focused in the best place to ensure climate targets are met.

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Ocean Frontier Institute Organizes International Carbon Workshop

The Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), in partnership with the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), organized an online “Ocean Carbon Workshop” on October 1, 2021, gathering key policymakers, opinion leaders and ocean carbon scientists to discuss the critical role of the ocean in controlling our climate and the importance of including it appropriately in net-zero calculations supporting climate targets. 

The scientific community has identified a critical gap in climate target calculations - the ocean’s uptake of carbon has not been taken into consideration. This risks the credibility of national net-zero ambitions and jeopardizes major international efforts to reach global climate targets. 

Mark Carney, UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, underscored the challenge this posed for policymakers, and the critical importance of addressing the issue at the Council of Parties (CoP26) in November. He and other attendees raised the importance of aligning the financial sector with the transition to net-zero, nations’ strong interest in engaging scientifically and logistically with an international observation initiative and the important role of international philanthropy. 

Mr. Carney welcomed the OFI’s leadership, particularly through partnership initiatives between Canadian and international ocean research institutions. 

Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s Minister, Environment and Climate Change, cited Canada’s interest in building an ocean carbon observatory in the North Atlantic, but emphasized that to be effective this would need to be scaled up to a global system through collaborative international initiatives. The observatory would deliver near-real-time information to complete the missing piece of the net-zero equation and could be an international exemplar in the critical North Atlantic Ocean.