Declaration from the WIOMSA Scientific Community to the UNFCCC COP21
30 October 2015, Port Edward, South Africa
We, a community of 500 coastal and marine scientists working in the Western Indian Ocean, meeting at the 9th biennial Scientific Symposium of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (www.wiomsa.org) make this Declaration to the 21st COP of the UNFCCC and to the global community, to call for decisive action on climate change by the world’s political and business leaders.
1. OUR CONTEXT: Over the millennia, the peoples of the Western Indian Ocean region have developed a diversity of cultures characterized by a strong link to the sea, influenced by ocean currents and winds. We have a rich history of trade and cultural exchange across the Indian Ocean.
Today, the marine and coastal environment of the Indian Ocean continues to play an important role in our cultures. We benefit from a range of ecosystem services from its habitats including many types of fisheries, building materials and fuels, coastal protection, as well as recreation and tourism. Together these contribute to the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people in our region. Many of our ecosystems contribute directly to global sequestration of carbon.
As an association of inter-disciplinary scientists, we recognize that humans are an integral part of natural ecosystems but we also observe how our activities affect and modify these ecosystems. Our region starts the 21st century with a youthful and growing population, and it is our wish to bequeath to our children a world in which our maritime cultures and marine ecosystem-based livelihoods will continue to thrive and prosper.
2. THE PROBLEM: According to the 2015 State of the Coast Report for the WIO region, which was approved by the 8th Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the
Nairobi Convention of the Western Indian Ocean, the region
is facing significant challenges regarding the sustainability of its marine and coastal environments. These include many regional and local challenges, which our national and regional institutions are actively engaged in addressing. But crucially, we also face critical challenges that derive from global greenhouse gas emissions and the resultant effects of climate change. These challenges can only be overcome through global cooperation and international action.
We, the marine science community of the Western Indian Ocean, bear witness to the following:
Declining provision of ecosystem services resulting from changes in species distributions and biology, including declines in key resource species and increasingly impoverished corals, seagrasses, and mangroves, which are the foundation of coastal ecosystems;
An increase in destructive weather patterns including severe storms and rainfall, and warming temperatures. These have impacts on human communities, the burden of which is borne disproportionately by the poor, while our governments struggle to find the capacity to manage these impacts;
Globally, 2015 has been the hottest year on record, and our coral reefs will be exposed to the third global coral bleaching event in early 2016. Warming oceans, as a result of climate change, represent a significant threat to our coastal communities.
3. CLIMATE CHANGE is perhaps the most significant global challenge of the 21st century given how pervasive its effects are likely to be. It has been measured and documented by scientists from across the globe, and in almost every ecosystem, and its effects are already observed and experienced by ordinary people the world over. The global scientific community is taking a prominent role in not only improving our understanding of these phenomena, but of communicating this understanding to policy makers and the general public, not least through the work of the IPCC. The ‘Our Common Future under Climate Change’ scientific conference of July 2015 provided an opportunity for scientists to collectively update and agree on their core message on the eve of this COP 21 of the UNFCCC.
Building on this, our message is that greenhouse gas emissions and climate change have already affected the marine ecosystems that are so important to the people of our region. In fact, some ecosystems, and their associated social systems in this region are approaching a threshold beyond which changes may be irreversible. We are profoundly concerned by the changes
we have collectively observed and by the likely proliferation of impacts on ecosystem structure and function in the future. Even more, we are concerned that climate impacts will undermine individual and family aspirations for a better life, and will undo attempts to achieve sustainable development and improve
human well-being in the nations of the Western Indian Ocean.
4. THE UNFCCC COP 21 has the potential to be a watershed event affecting the future of our planet’s ecology, and for human society. We therefore call upon the delegates to COP21, and their respective governments, to realize that potential and to reduce our collective dependence on industries and activities that emit greenhouse gases and to significantly increase investment in the green/blue economy. Inspired leadership and creative solutions are urgently needed. But while there is much to be concerned about, there is also great hope and there is still opportunity.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world" (Gandhi)
On behalf of WIOMSA, the entire Western Indian Ocean Scientific Community and the friends of WIO region.