Photo: / Graham Cook CC BY

Editorial: IPCC Ocean and Cryosphere report is a powerful diplomatic asset

The IPCC’s Special Report on The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC)1 and its summary for policymakers (SPM) provide scary reading about ongoing changes and risks, as well as projected risks. Whereas the special report on global warming of 1.5°C (see front page) continually deserves and needs to be cited for shifting the focus from scenarios with a higher level of mean global warming to drastically more ambitious levels, the SROCC reinforces the findings in the 1.5°C report and other previous reports. This reinforcement specifically concerns the ocean and the cryosphere, but also highlights the importance of these systems for the entire globe and its human populations.

These deeper insights cover a number of factors, such as the interconnections between the cryosphere and the ocean, and their global effects (e.g. sea level rise and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation), as well as the dramatic global consequences for human living conditions and livelihoods.

The SROCC hopefully serves as a final alarm bell to demonstrate the globally diverse risks of climate change, and even to persuade those countries and individuals who have thus far taken lightly on effects of climate change in their back (or front) yards.

To this end, one particular concern is ocean acidification, which operates irrespective of local temperature or climate conditions (although there can be interactions), because waters everywhere significantly absorb CO2, resulting in decreased pH values across the globe. Indeed, even climate sceptics tend not to dispute the increase of CO2, but rather its connection to observed temperature rise. It is – or should be – becoming harder and harder for anyone to overlook the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, and hence the need for much more ambitious mitigation measures.

In this context it is sad that one sentence, which stated that the present assessment reinforces2 findings in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C, was reportedly3 omitted from the approved and accepted SPM, due to the demands of Saudi Arabia. An oil-rich country (albeit largely surrounded by ocean) has its major economic interests elsewhere, but the SROCC is a powerful diplomatic asset for exerting political and economic pressure on countries that are not willing to embrace the 1.5°C target. A logical framework for such a policy would be a sharpening of the Paris Agreement (see Editorial in AN 1/2018).

The authors of the SROCC and the chairpersons of the IPCC’s 51st session deserve huge respect not only for finalizing the report and the SPM, but also for their patience and skill in negotiating a scientifically sound and powerful product, which in the end was accepted and approved by all nations. Their patience and skill were, on top of everything, often needed at ungodly hours and involved several days of continuous work virtually around the clock.

In fact, the key persons not only deserve respect – they deserve many prestigious prizes. But at the end of the day, the best prize of all would probably be a translation of their work into rapid action to reach the 1.5°C target, and save everything that can be saved for the oceans and the cryosphere, as well as the entire biosphere.

Marko Reinikainen

1 Approved and accepted on the IPCC:s 51st session, 20–23 September 2019
2 Italics added by present author
3 See e.g.


In this issue