As world leaders prepared to meet in Glasgow at COP26 to address the climate crisis, global ocean and climate experts joined the IMarEST Oceans of Knowledge 2021 conference with attendees from 30 countries. We bring you some of the highlights from this hugely important conference.
The recent 4th biennial Oceans of Knowledge conference – organised by the IMarEST Operational Oceanography Special Interest Group (SIG) from 26-27 September at the Institute of Physics in London as well as online – was a two-day event set up to discuss and address three urgent themes:climate change and the sustainable use of the ocean and its resources, the role of the ocean in natural and engineered climate mitigation, and the impact of rising sea levels.
With presentations from a host of leading international organisations – including the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Schmidt Ocean Institute and the International Energy Agency –along with a highly engaged remote online audience viewing from more than 30 countries, it was an ideal opportunity for attendees to meet, network and learn with delegates and specialists from government, academia and industry representing a truly diverse range of disciplines and sectors.
State of emergency
Endorsed by the United Nations’ Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the conference provided a packed and fascinating programme of talks highlighting the latest scientific understanding of ocean-related aspects of climate change.
It also offered expert perspectives on how best to ensure marine ecosystems are protected while still helping the ocean fulfil its future use as a source of energy and food for the world’s growing population.
“The next ten years are now widely accepted as critical for climate action,” explained Gus Jeans, who co-chairs the IMarEST Operational Oceanography SIG with Ralph Rayner.
“This high-profile event – which was promoted at the COP26 summit – will make a key contribution to the United Nations’ Ocean Decade.
“We are also very excited by the collaboration from other learned societies and professional bodies that are supporting this conference.”
The Oceans of Knowledge 2021 conference keynote speech was given by the veteran climate crisis campaigner, and chair of the Centre for Climate Repair, Sir David King, who described the seriousness of the situation now facing humanity and the planet as “a global state of emergency of an extreme kind”.
Presentations during the first day of the event then set out in detail the types of ocean information needed to support changes in humanity’s use of the ocean within the context of the blue economy specifically food and energy, data and information, sea levels, and technology and engineering.
Delegates were also able to view a teaser of the new IMarEST ITN film Resilient Ocean during lunch.
Rising sea crisis
Day two of the conference kicked off with a sobering assessment from John Englander FIMarEST, president of the Rising Seas Institute, who pointed out that inter-disciplinary efforts will be vital in our efforts to tackle the climate emergency.
“What we are contemplating here today, and educating ourselves about, is a profound issue,” he said. “From the Thames Barrier to Miami and India, we are looking at sea levels that are changing greatly for the first time in human civilisation. We all need to dialogue and open our minds to a world that is beginning to change – but which is only at the earliest stages of that change.”
Each block of presentations concluded with an interactive panel discussion, with questions sent in from the watching online global audience.
“With so many uncertainties within scientific projections, is there a need for improved data to support the ideas being put forward?” asked one viewer.
“Well, we have a lot of the data we already need,” replied Brent Wanner of the International Energy Agency. “The biggest uncertainty we actually face is on the policy and implementation front – is the world actually going to raise its ambitions enough and then fulfil them? Hopefully COP26 will help with that.”
The main outcomes from the Oceans of Knowledge conference will be used to generate a summary report drawing together the themes covered during the event to inform future workshops and support peer-reviewed papers.
They will also be placed into the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Recordings of all the presentations and Q&A sessions during the Oceans of Knowledge 2021 conference are now available to watch on IMarEST TV for those who registered.
Dennis O’Neill is a freelance journalist specialising in maritime.