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A Virtual COP For A Change

COP25: The ‘Blue’ COP

The 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, ​25th Conference of the Parties (COP25), was held in Madrid from December 2nd to the 13th. With an increasing recognition of the ocean as an essential component of the climate system, this year’s conference, also referred to as the “Blue COP25”​, focused many discussions on ocean sustainability and climate change related topics.

Challenges of attending COP25

Still, not everyone could – or should – attend the COP25. There were limited opportunities to engage in the debates directly. Additionally, many participants from South America had to cancel their attendance because of the change in venue from Santiago de Chile to Madrid. Regardless, the massive CO2 emissions associated with air travel represented a major drawback to many climate-conscious participants.


The #VirtualBlueCOP25 initiative is an online platform that focused on ocean and climate-related themes addressed throughout the COP25. The initiative aimed to reduce CO2 emissions from scientists, politicians and NGOs by gathering speakers and audiences virtually. The online events also aimed to promote inclusive dialogues. They provided valuable insights into COP25 negotiations and increased public engagement in ocean and climate science and facilitated participation of early career researchers, minorities, southern countries and youth initiatives such as Sail To The COP.

The #VirtualBlueCOP25 held a range of online events from September to December 2019, with regular events throughout the COP25. Prior to the COP, international and local experts, climate negotiators and communities passionate about ocean and climate change presented interactive sessions on a range of topics to engage people around the world in the global climate debate.

For Ocean Day, December 7th, the #VirtualBlueCOP25 held a 24-hour global event. Decision-makers, scientists, activists, artists, NGOs and many more had the opportunity to share their work around the COP25 from their home countries. In Portland, USA, a PDX virtual bridge was developed to allow 200 locals to experience the events occurring in Madrid and follow the #VirtualBlueCOP25 live events. Real-time discussions and analyses were held among a group of more than 450 participants on the insights and updates of international climate-ocean negotiations. The #VirtualBlueCOP25 also covered the current socio-political context in Chile: Maria José Martínez Harms, a Chilean postdoctoral researcher at the Universidad Católica de Chile gave an interview on the current social movements, the impacts of changing the COP25 venue and its implications for climate justice and Latin America.

Insights from the #VirtualBlueCOP25

As international meetings and events play a significant role in research and international debates, the move towards ‘greener’ technologies promoted by climate-friendly online events can substantially reduce their environmental footprint. Online communication is now commonly used among distant project teams and can represent a way forward for conferences and workshops.

The #VirtualBlueCOP25 successfully proved that remote conferencing can be organized with a low budget (only accounting for two coordinators’ salaries and a Zoom Pro account subscription). Yet, more funding would be highly beneficial for professional software and equipment to improve the technical quality of the webinars. Enhancing professional communication around #VirtualBlueCOP25 is also essential to increase its outreach. Another insight shows that combining local in-person gatherings to follow the virtual events and facilitate subsequent discussions e.g. via hub solutions,with the virtual events are key to attract more people. This way, the benefits and incentives of interpersonal exchanges can be combined with the benefits of virtual communication while saving carbon emissions.

The online conferences also promoted greater inclusiveness in international discussions on climate science. African panelists of the webinar “Experience and societal value of the work of African scientists in ocean and climate” shared their difficulties in engaging with the global scientific community compared to their colleagues from Western countries, not to mention their substantial lack of funding. The panelists also perceived the development of virtual communication as a way to tackle these challenges.

The conferences and events remain online and accessible through the VirtualBlueCOP25 YouTube channel. Looking into the future, the goal is to sustain virtual platforms beyond this event and to promote the #VirtualBlueCOP25 as a model for other international conferences and workshops. For instance, future COPs at regional (e.g. Regional Sea Conventions) and international (e.g. Convention for Biological Biodiversity) levels would be of particular interest.

The organisation and implementation of the virtual events were entirely led by early career researchers and professionals, with support and guidance from the ​Ocean Knowledge-Action Network (KAN)​ and the Future Earth Secretariat in partnership with ​LOCEAN​. The early career team was coordinated by Luisa Sarmiento, a Master student in sustainability science, Axel Bertrand, a Master student in Ocean Engineering and Soeren Thomsen, physical Oceanographer at LOCEAN. The three of them took turns for 24 hours during the virtual live events on Ocean Day and felt jet-lagged (but with a low carbon footprint) for the following week!

A special thanks to Soeren Thomsen, Luisa Sarmiento Trujillo, Axel Bertrand, Ibukun Jacob Adewumi, Anna Zivian, Christopher Oghenechovwen, Bleuenn Guilloux, Dwight Owens; Hannah Moersberger, Maria Jose Martinez Harms from Future Earth; Charline Guillou, Joëlle Richard, Denis Bailly from Brest Ocean University Initiative, and all other partners, speakers and supporters for their commitment and engagement in this successful initiative!