International scientists and representatives from a number of civil society groups underlined Monday the key role the oceans have played in climate change, but acknowledged they lacked scientific evidence to push the world to accept oceans as carbon sinks.
Scientists from developed and developing countries were of the common view that oceans, proven scientifically to have stored much higher concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) than land or forests, were being severely affected by the worsening climate change. They warned the impacts, such as temperature rises, could cause rapid and large-scale release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Experts gathered at the Global Ocean Policy Day preparatory meeting, a sideline event at the World Ocean Conference (WOC) in Manado, also underlined the negative impacts that affected oceans were having on people living in coastal areas and those whose livelihoods hinged on the marine sector.
With such a crucial role, they vowed to table marine issues at any international climate meeting, particularly the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December, boosting efforts by 80 ocean countries attending the WOC to adopt a declaration to push for the central role of oceans at international talks.
US World Wildlife Fund vice president of marine and Arctic policy Bill Eichbaum said there was no doubt climate change had negatively affected the oceans, as rising temperatures had caused, for instance, the melting of glaciers in the Arctic Sea and had raised world sea levels.
He added high temperatures had forced the release of greenhouse gases from oceans, pushing global warming to unprecedented levels.
"The world has no legal framework or economic system to cope with the possibility, which will cause chaos. That's why it's urgent that the UN tackle the issue," he said.
Raphael Bille of the IDDRI, a French think tank on climate change, said the groups could table the ocean issues by inserting them into the Copenhagen ministerial declaration or by appealing to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the authoritative world body on climate change scientific research.
"Member states will ask the opinion of the IPCC for scientific basis for the role of the oceans in climate change," he said.
However, British scientist Christopher Tompkins, admitted there was insufficient evidence to conclude the oceans could be regarded as significant carbon sinks, discouraging the push to include ocean as part of UN mitigation programs.
"We should focus on an adaptation program rather than pushing oceans as carbon sinks," he said.
The Copenhagen meeting will discuss a new regime on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Bringing ocean issues to the UN talks is crucial for attracting global attention and funding from bilateral and multilateral agreements, with developing countries likely to get funding for their adaptation and mitigation programs in dealing with climate change impacts.
Director of US-based Center for Ocean Solutions, Meg Caldwell, said the world needed to act now and not wait for "perfect science" to support the drive.