skip to primary navigationskip to content

IPCC special report on the ocean and cryosphere

November 2019: special report on oceans and the cryosphere emphasises calls to accelerate a transition to a zero carbon economy and place at least 30% of the world’s oceans under protection. Rising temperatures, acidification, and lower oxygen levels in the oceans are severely impacting human and marine life.


There have been increasing calls from governments, researchers and NGOs to agree on a strong global oceans treaty to conserve marine life and increase resilience of marine ecosystems. This is supported by the IPCC special report on the ocean and cryosphere. The report recommends the establishment of marine sanctuaries that span at least 30% of the world’s oceans and should be restricted for commercial fishing and oil or gas extraction. It also confirms that intense storms, loss of marine life, and melting permafrost are being exasperated by climate change at a larger scale and faster rate than previously predicted due to oceans becoming hotter, more acidic, and less oxygenated.

Implications & Opportunities

Climate change is causing unexpectedly fast melting in Antarctica. This is leading to rising sea levels and rising frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as extreme tropical storms that negatively impact coasts and cause flooding. Sea level rises further expose an additional 10 million people to flooding and increase risks of displacement and subsequent migration. The report reiterates that the majority of the world’s largest cities and almost 2 billion people live in coastal areas which may be effected by damages due to sea level rises worth several trillion dollars of damage each year and result in millions of migrants. In addition to the effects of sea-level rises, higher temperatures, reduced oxygenation and higher acidity levels are harming sensitive eco-systems; thus, causing local extinction of warm-water coral reefs and kelp forests. These trends could cut profits from fisheries by a quarter and all marine life by 15% over the next decades. The report calls for increased efforts to reduce carbon emissions and shift energy systems towards 100% renewable energy. It emphasises the responsibilities of policy-makers and businesses to accelerate the transition to a zero carbon economy.


The report provides general guidelines for businesses and policy makers, but acknowledges regional differences that require adaptation of the recommendations at the local level.


IPCC. (2019). Summary for Policymakers. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.- O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N. Weyer (eds.)]. In press.

Le Monde. (2019). Climat: Le Rapport de L’ONU sure les Océans et les Zones Glacées Adopté. Retrieved from


Share this

RSS Feed Latest news

New report sets out ten principles required for business to deliver a sustainable purpose

Nov 26, 2020

26 November 2020 – A new report from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) captures insights from leading companies to highlight practices to integrate a sustainable purpose into organisations.

View all news


Adele Wiliams

| T: +44 (0)1223 768451


The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.