Almost three-quarters of Earth’s surface is covered by ocean. World leaders seeking to confront the climate crisis should understand that the ocean is being damaged by climate change – but it can also play a considerable part in delivering the solutions we need.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, the ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system and since the 1980s has taken in 20-30% of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. While the ocean may look the same as it always has, under the surface it is getting warmer, more acidic, and less productive.

But the ocean is much more than a victim of climate change — it is also a critical part of the solution. A report commissioned by the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy found that by 2050 ocean solutions could contribute as much as one-fifth of the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cuts needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. At the same time, these ocean-based solutions can create jobs, sustain livelihoods and communities, and lead to a healthier ocean.

What are ocean-based climate solutions? Of course, they reduce GHG emissions and increase the resilience of people and nature in the face of climate impacts we cannot stop. But ocean-based climate solutions are not just land-based solutions applied to the ocean. They can, and must, be designed for ocean and coastal communities, ecosystems, and sectors and implemented with consideration for the unique governance, environmental conditions, and natural resources found in the ocean. Thinking about issues like energy production or transportation with an ocean perspective can ensure that the solutions developed will provide as many benefits as the ocean itself — protecting food and livelihoods, generating economic growth, and conserving some of the most wonderous places on the planet — all while delivering climate benefits.

Read the full article about oceans and climate change at United Nations Foundation.