Oceans and climate

The ocean forms part of the climate system and is a moderator of climate change. Scientists have shown that it absorbs over 90 per cent of the heat and 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide that humans continue to add to the atmosphere. This service comes with a cost and the ocean is warming, rising, and acidifying at an unprecedented rate. The changing conditions are endangering many marine organisms and putting at risk the lives and livelihoods of millions of coastal people and communities.

These effects need to be understood in the context of the other drivers of harm to ocean health, which include economic activity based on extraction, technological advances and geopolitical changes. Understanding and updating international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, offers possibilities for climate mitigation and adaptation. Developments in marine protected areas and in biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction is an important focus. The participatory inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, cultures, and traditional practices is important to these processes. In addition, socio-ecological systems are important to consider at the local and global level, including physical environmental differences and social inequalities.

The ocean–climate nexus demands further research to identify solutions, to track sites of harm, and critically consider the dependence of humans on the oceans in the context of increasing economic demands, human welfare needs, and drastically mounting ecological harms. While science informs our understanding of this nexus, this understanding is incomplete without contributions from social, cultural, legal, economic, political, geography-based and other forms of knowledge. Future research on the oceans-climate nexus will necessarily be inter-disciplinary with broad comparative analysis and the consideration of local, national and international governance structures.

Program Lead

Professor Margaret A. Young, Professor of Law, Melbourne Law School, Professor and Director, Melbourne School of Design, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning

Early career researcher co-lead

Dr Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb, Research Fellow in Global Ocean Governance, Melbourne Law School, and Lecturer, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences