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News article25 September 20193 min read

Special IPCC report highlights the role of oceans and the cryosphere on climate cycles

The tip of the iceberg: Global warming is likely to lead to irreversible changes in the ocean and cryosphere for years to come.
© Fotolia, by the lightwriter

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) was launched at the 51st session of the IPCC in Monaco today.

The report concludes that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and ongoing global warming will lead to unavoidable, irreversible and abrupt changes in the ocean and cryosphere over decades to centuries, including retreating glaciers, continuous warming of the oceans, increasing sea levels, reductions in biomass in marine ecosystems, geographical shifts of marine species, and reductions in fisheries.

Therefore, in order to manage and avoid escalating risks, ecosystems and societies need to adapt to changes in the oceans and cryosphere, in addition to greenhouse gas mitigation.

The major adaptation measures proposed include changing governance structures, developing protected area networks, restoring terrestrial and marine habitats, restoring depleted stocks through a more precautionary approach to fisheries management, and improving the management of coastal blue carbon ecosystems.

Background to the SROCC

The Special Report assesses the literature to understand the physical processes and impacts of climate change on ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems. It also assesses consequences for human communities and options for people to adapt to climate-related changes for a more sustainable future.

The Special Report was prepared following a decision of governments in 2016, in preparation for the Sixth Assessment Cycle.

Presented in six chapters, the full 250-page report addresses high mountain areas, polar regions, sea level rise, changing ocean and marine ecosystems, and how to manage risks, with a particular focus on the effects of changes on low-lying islands, coasts and communities.

Findings of the Special Report

Among other conclusions, the SROCC states that all people on Earth depend to some degree on the ocean and cryosphere, which provide essential services including carbon dioxide and heat absorption and redistribution, food production, ecosystem support, supply of fresh water and renewable energy, and benefits associated with health and wellbeing, cultural values, tourism, trade and transport.

According to JRC scientist Diego Macias Moy, who was requested by DG RTD to participate in the government review of the SPM,

"This new Special Report synthesises current knowledge about the importance of the ocean in climate regulation and the potential impacts climate change could have on marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

"It demonstrates the amazing range of climate issues related to oceans and cryosphere.

"At the JRC, we assess the impacts of climate change on EU marine ecosystems and the services they provide, mostly through dedicated models. Our aim is to create tools that can project the expected impacts of climate on our natural systems and, hence, help with the development of adaptation policies."

Policy recommendations

The SROCC draws the attention of policymakers and other stakeholders to the role of the oceans and cryosphere on climate cycles, showing how climate change is regulated by the interactions between the atmosphere and oceans.

It also highlights the vulnerability of populations that depend on oceanic and high-mountain ecosystems due to the potential effects of such climate changes, and the need for adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Further information

Related Content

SROCC final report

SROCC Summary for Policymakers

SROCC factsheet

2019 Refinement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (May 2019)

The JRC contributes to the updated IPCC Methodologies for Greenhouse Gas Inventories

Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (October 2018)

How much can the agricultural sector contribute to the 1.5 C global climate change target?


Publication date
25 September 2019