Blue Leaders 'Call To Action on Ocean and Climate' in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Photo/Stuart Ramson for UN Foundation)

“Our enemy right now is physics.” Greta Thunberg Responds to the Latest IPCC Report on Sea Level Rise and Ocean Health

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest scientific report, this time focusing on the intersection of climate change and the world’s oceans.

The New York Times offers a useful rundown of the report’s key findings.

— Seas are now rising at one-seventh of an inch (3.66 millimeters) a year, which is 2.5 times faster than the rate from 1900 to 1990.

— The world’s oceans have already lost 1% to 3% of the oxygen in their upper levels since 1970 and will lose more as warming continues.

—From 2006 to 2015, the ice melting from Greenland, Antarctica and the world’s mountain glaciers has accelerated. They are now losing 720 billion tons (653 billion metric tons) of ice a year.

—Arctic June snow cover has shrunk more than half since 1967, down nearly 1 million square miles (2.5 million square kilometers).

—Arctic sea ice in September, the annual low point, is down almost 13% per decade since 1979. This year’s low, reported Monday, tied for the second-lowest on record.

—Marine animals are likely to decrease 15%, and catches by fisheries in general are expected to decline 21% to 24%, by the end of century because of climate change.

The sea level rise is a particularly worrying finding. “What are now once in a century events will happen about once a year by 2050,” one of the report’s lead scientists Michael Oppenheimer told me. The ‘events’ to which he was referring  includes massive flooding compounded by rising sea levels. “Think of a kind of event that can shut down New York City for one day,” he said.  Massive King Tides will also occur with such frequency in low lying areas that parts of small island countries will be uninhabitable, he added.

The problem is, even if emissions are capped and the 1.5 degree target is reached, much of the sea level rise is already “baked in” due to previous warming trends. In the chart below, taken from the IPCC ocean report, the blue represents a scenario in which emissions are reduced and global warming is capped at 1.5 degrees Centigrade by 2100. The red represents the current business-as-usual.  scenario. Under both, sea levels continue to rise well past 2100 — but the degree of the rise and the destruction and devastation it cause by is dramatically different under the different scenarios.

Blue Leaders

At the launch of the IPCC report, several heads of state of countries directly affected by sea level rises, joining under the banner of the Blue Leaders Call to Action, sought to highlight actions their own countries are taking on climate change, and spur others to ramp up their response. Representatives of eight countries, including six heads of state, issued specific calls to action upon the release of the report.

“The world cannot succeed in addressing climate change without ambitious ocean climate action. We cannot ensure the health, resilience, sustainability and productivity of the ocean without immediate and aggressive measures to combat the climate crisis” said Seychelles President Danny Faure. He added that the Seychelles commitment to the Paris Climate Accord includes expanding the areas of the Seychelles ocean territories that can used as a carbon sink. “Our [Paris Agreement Contribution] for 2020 will have a chapter dedicated to ocean climate action and blue carbon ecosystems, looking at sea grass, mangroves and coral reefs is one of the most effective carbon sinks in Seychelles’ vast Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.4 million square kilometers.”

Greta Thunberg was also on hand for the launch to use her star-power and moral voice to draw attention to the new IPCC report. She came with a straightforward message.


The next key inflection point in international action on climate change will take place in Santiago, Chile during the next Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or “COP 25” as it is known. To that end, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera promised to the assembled leaders that this COP will be “the blue cop.

“Without blue, there is no green,”  he said. “And without green you cannot have life.”