Ocean sustainability – where are we now and what to expect at COP28

The ocean is a crucial component of the climate system and plays a vital role in the worldwide approach to climate change. Despite its importance, the ocean has long been overlooked in the fight against climate change.

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The ocean is a crucial component of the climate system and plays a vital role in the worldwide approach to climate change.

Encompassing 71% of the Earth’s surface, the ocean has endured the primary effects of human-induced global warming. It has absorbed more than 90% of the heat resulting from climate change and has sequestered around one-quarter of carbon emissions.

This has severe consequences, heightening risks for ocean and coastal ecosystems, as well as posing threats to the lives and livelihoods of coastal communities.

Despite its importance, the ocean has long been overlooked in the fight against climate change. The ocean’s significance was first recognised on the global stage in the UNFCC Convention in 1994, and later in the 2015 Paris Agreement which “ensures the integrity of all ecosystems, including the oceans.”

It was not until 2019 that the need to strengthen our understanding of the linkage between the ocean and climate change was acknowledged. The following year, at COP26, the first Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue took place, cementing ocean-based action in COP processes.

COP27 –  At COP27, billed the “implementation COP,” the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan was agreed. From an ocean sustainability perspective, two standouts emerge from the Implementation Plan.

Firstly, Parties are encouraged to ‘blue’ their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), long-term strategies and adaptation techniques, facilitating ocean-based climate action at the national scale.

Secondly, the Plan further embeds the Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue into the global climate regime. Moving forward, two facilitators are chosen to host the dialogue, and responsible for deciding two topics for discussion.

Outcomes of the Dialogue are then presented to Parties at the COP. This year, the topics cover coastal ecosystem restoration including blue carbon, and fisheries and food security. The summary report of the Dialogue can be found here.

Blue carbon – the carbon captured and sequestered by marine ecosystems – also gained momentum at COP27. Conservation International, alongside a coalition of ocean stakeholders, released the High-Quality Blue Carbon Ocean Principles and Guidance framework, seeking to govern a voluntary carbon market expected to reach a value of $50bn by 2030.

Mangroves have been the subject of blue carbon commitments, acting as a key marine ecosystem and carbon sink. Hence, the Mangrove Breakthrough was announced as part of the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, aiming to raise $4bn to secure the future of 15 million hectares of mangroves globally by 2030.

COP27 also marked the inaugural year for the Ocean Pavilion, a space hosting over 70 events and workshops led by 20 scientific institutions and a range of influential stakeholders.

COP28 –  Amongst a barrage of stories set to come out of this year’s conference, keep an eye out for these three developments – the Dubai Ocean Declaration, the global stock-take and, the Loss and Damage fund.

Dubai Ocean Declaration – Ocean Pavilion is calling for increased action and monitoring of the ocean, producing the Dubai Ocean Declaration for guidance and commitment. COP28 participants are urged to adopt measures for enhanced ocean protection, starting with bolstering observational capacity to address climate change risks.

Key initiatives involve refining carbon flux estimates, monitoring emerging carbon removal strategies, and measuring crucial climate and biological variables.

The call extends to building capacity in developing nations, fostering international cooperation, and integrating traditional knowledge. The proposal underscores an urgent need for a robust research and technology programme, emphasising transparency and ethical practices.

Global stock-take –  Every five years, Paris Agreement signatories must revise their NDCs. First, a global stock-take assesses the overall progress of climate actions globally. As findings from the IPCC and various scientific organisations indicate that the opportunity to restrict warming to 1.5°C is narrowing, the upcoming stock-take is expected to trigger appeals for intensified actions from both governments and market stakeholders, potentially catalysing ocean-based initiatives.

Loss and Damage Fund –  A milestone at COP27 was the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund. Year-long discussions on the fund’s creation faced hurdles, with disagreements over contributors, amounts, and recipients.

However, progress has been made on the first day of this year’s conference, with $420m pledged to seed the fund and more contributions expected.  This is likely to benefit ocean projects as the fund will cover “slow-onset processes”, such as sea level rise and ocean acidification.