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Announcement: @IISDRS the Summary & Analysis of the 18th Meeting of the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on #Oceans and the Law of the #Sea #ICP18

15-19 May 2017 | UN Headquarters, New York

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The eighteenth meeting of the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (Consultative Process or ICP-18) convened from 15-19 May 2017 at UN Headquarters in New York. The meeting brought together representatives from governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions to examine this year’s topic: “The effects of climate change on oceans.”

On Monday and Thursday, there was a general exchange of views. On Monday afternoon and Tuesday, delegates heard panel presentations and engaged in discussions on the first segment, “The effects of climate change on oceans, including environmental, social and economic implications.” On Wednesday, delegates engaged with the second segment on: “Cooperation and coordination in addressing the effects of climate change on oceans – current actions and opportunities for further enhancement.”

On Thursday, delegates convened in plenary to discuss: inter-agency cooperation and coordination; the process for the selection of topics and panelists so as to facilitate the work of the UN General Assembly (UNGA); and issues that could benefit from attention in the future work of the UNGA on oceans and the law of the sea. On Friday morning, the Co-Chairs distributed a Co-Chairs’ summary of discussions, providing an overview of the discussions under each of the agenda items.



UNCLOS turns 35 years old this year while the UNFCCC is 25. While climate change receives a lot of attention in the UN system under the UNFCCC, the IPCC and the SDGs, oceans are sharing the spotlight during 2017, including the Ocean Conference in June, the focus on implementation of SDG 14 at the HLPF in July, and the ongoing BBNJ negotiations, among others. Yet, ICP-18 was the first time that climate change and oceans have been considered together under any General Assembly process. The theme of oceans and climate change had been proposed for the ICP in previous years, but some believed it was premature to tackle the subject while negotiations toward the Paris Agreement were in progress. With the Paris Agreement’s adoption and entry into force, the time was ripe to introduce oceans to climate change, in the safe environment of an informal consultative process.

During the week, panel presentations underscored the need to hasten recognition of this relationship. Delegates heard that the ocean has absorbed 93% of the heat generated by CO2 emissions since the 1970s, but not without costs: increased warming is accelerating deoxygenation; ocean acidification is devastating coral reefs around the world; and thermal expansion contributes more to sea level rise than sea ice melt. Coastal communities, fisheries, aquaculture, and livelihoods are feeling the socio-economic effects, with developing countries, LDCs and SIDS disproportionately bearing the brunt of the change. In some cases, survival of a nation hangs in the balance.

This brief analysis reflects on some of the issues raised at ICP-18, the complex array of interlinkages with other issues and processes, and considers how Member States and the ICP may support future work on these interrelated issues.


Kiribati has 33 coral atolls and reef islands scattered across a large area of the Pacific Ocean; none are higher than six feet above sea level. Makurita Baaro held back tears as she spoke about the effects of climate change on her nation and other similar island states. “My island stands to lose from climate change,” she said.

Ninety per cent of SIDS are in the tropics and most are subject to extreme weather events such as tropical storms, cyclones and hurricanes. Climate variability, droughts and flooding are now normal features of their weather patterns. The poleward shift in the distribution of fish species in response to ocean warming will continue to hurt the economies and peoples of SIDS communities.

Perhaps more than any other grouping of states, SIDS understand the connection between climate change and oceans. According to UN-OHRLLS, all SIDS that can enter into treaties have either ratified or acceded to UNCLOS. Forty-one SIDS are currently parties to the UNFCCC and 29 are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol. The call by Nauru, on behalf of PSIDS and AOSIS, to recognize the special circumstances of islands, has been heard many times before under the UNFCCC and other fora. It was first acknowledged by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Agenda 21; was recognized in the Rio+20 outcome, “The Future We Want”; and is included in SDG 13 (climate action).

Recognizing the need for urgent action for SIDS, presentations on early warning systems and regional partnerships offered hope for potential solutions, but others highlighted the huge challenges and remaining gaps in knowledge, capacity building and financing.


The high seas and deep ocean in ABNJs are highly vulnerable to CO2-induced stress, even though most GHG emissions result from land-based activities. The need to address both environmental and socio-economic issues related to ABNJ remained a key concern throughout ICP-18, with countries focusing on implications to marine resources and territorial boundaries resulting from climate change, especially for SIDS and coastal states.

Despite advancement in the work of the BBNJ Preparatory Committee on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS, which could address some of the environmental impacts of climate change, delegates still felt that other avenues should be pursued, such as NAPs, NDCs, and regional collaboration.

After a presentation on legal implications, the definitions of islands, statehood, and maritime features under UNCLOS, delegates debated the need for additional UNCLOS provisions to take into account climate change impacts. Some of these issues are being discussed in the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage under the UNFCCC, but the process is complex and remains highly debated in that forum. Thus, at present, nations facing imminent displacement of their people have limited legal options under either Convention.

Regarding the impacts of climate change on state sovereignty, Venezuela highlighted the special case for SIDS, whose territorial boundaries can be compromised by sea level rise. He suggested consideration of a referral to the ILC or adding an UNGA Sixth Committee agenda item on the issue. PSIDS and others agreed, saying that any discussion of identity and statehood will need to address environmental and socio-economic impacts within the jurisdictions of those countries.

Many countries wanted to make sure their views on these issues were fairly reflected in the meeting’s outcomes, especially since this was the first ICP meeting on climate change and oceans.


Repeated references to the UNFCCC at ICP highlighted overlaps with regard to climate change and oceans under the two Conventions. The Ocean Action Day at the UNFCCC COP22 in Marrakech in 2016 highlighted activities, initiatives and roadmaps by UN entities, NGOs and others on climate change and oceans, but that event was informal in nature. What are the possibilities for a closer relationship between international agreements and bodies focused on oceans and those on climate? Presentations and discussions during the segment on cooperation and coordination helped identify areas where different conventions may help address cross-cutting issues.

One obvious benefit to addressing ocean issues under the UNFCCC is the potential to access resources tied to the various climate financing instruments, to the tune of billions of dollars annually—a stark contrast to the perennially “depleted” UNCLOS Trust Fund. Several climate finance presenters suggested that delegates explore whether their countries might be eligible for climate financing to address ocean-related impacts.

UNCLOS, on the other hand, has a dispute settlement mechanism, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, among other legal avenues for addressing disputes and related issues. While the UNFCCC does not have such options, its obligatory reporting requirements through the NAPs and NDCs could help ensure accountability for national-level actions on climate change and oceans, covering, for example, adaptation and mitigation efforts. Also, the IPCC is preparing a Special Report on climate change, oceans and the cryosphere, which will provide a formal scientific basis on the two issues and perhaps prompt informed action under the UNFCCC, as previous reports have done.

An additional difference between the ICP and the UNFCCC is that the ICP offers a platform for PSIDS to directly share their concerns, experiences, and perspectives on the issue of climate change impacts. While PSIDS have representation in the UNFCCC through AOSIS, PSIDS are not an official grouping under that Convention.

Discussions during ICP-18 noted that issues such as climate refugees, displacement, and maritime features are also linked to other conventions and UN entities. For example, the International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, and relevant human rights conventions may provide avenues to address climate change-related issues. Although these interlinkages are referenced in the science and through the work of UN entities such as the FAO and IOC, gaps in policy and practice at the national level, and the limited capacity of some Member States to effectively address climate change and oceans through the relevant conventions, will continue if these are not dealt with.

Partnerships, capacity building, technology transfer and research are key to ensuring that these gaps are addressed. A consistent refrain during ICP-18 was a call for more oceans research, including observation and monitoring, although, as one developing country delegate noted, not at the expense of immediate climate action.


The overlap and temporal proximity of other key climate change and oceans meetings appeared to reduce the participation of Member States, especially those with limited resources, and a depleted Trust Fund likely exacerbated the problem. Representation by IGOs and NGOs was mostly limited to organizations who participated in the panels. The ICP practice of each meeting topic being a “one-off” means that different constituencies and experts attend each one, leading to little continuity from year to year. Given this context, have discussions at ICP-18 helped move the issue of oceans and climate change to the next level?

Delegates agreed that the open and informal process on this subject was both valuable and appropriate. Policymakers heard about the depth of the problem and potential solutions; scientists had the opportunity to exchange information and share insights. Although the ICP was not supposed to feed into the Ocean Conference, many delegates referred to the Secretary-General’s comprehensive report, the Technical Abstracts for the 1st Global Marine Assessment, and the Co-Chair’s summary of ICP-18 as meaningful sources of information that could help raise the profile of these issues at the June conference. The opportunity to propose and vet issues related to oceans and climate change may well find traction in other fora. As for which fora might be most appropriate, one member of the Secretariat offered, “The more the merrier, so long as there is no duplication!”

This issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin <> is written and edited by Teya Penniman, Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson, and Natalie Jones. The Digital Editor is Mike Muzurakis. The Editor is Pamela Chasek, Ph.D. <>. The Director of IISD Reporting Services is Langston James “Kimo” Goree VI <>. The Earth Negotiations Bulletin is published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The Sustaining Donors of the Bulletin are the European Union (EU) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. General Support for the Bulletin during 2017 is provided by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, Japanese Ministry of Environment (through the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies - IGES), New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Switzerland (Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), and SWAN International. Specific funding for coverage of this meeting has been provided by the EU and the Prince Albert II Foundation of Monaco. Funding for translation of the Bulletin into French has been provided by the Government of France, Québec, and the International Organization of La Francophonie/Institute for Sustainable Development of La Francophonie (IOF/IFDD). The opinions expressed in the Bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IISD or other donors. Excerpts from the Bulletin may be used in non-commercial publications with appropriate academic citation. For information on the Bulletin, including requests to provide reporting services, contact the Director of IISD Reporting Services at <>, +1-646-536-7556 or 300 East 56th St., 11D, New York, NY 10022 USA.