World needs to protect oceans with same zeal as fight against climate change, event hears

Rallying cry to protect world's stressed oceans made at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi conference

Marine ecosystems are under pressure from rising ocean temperatures and pollution. Getty Images
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The world needs to protect the oceans with the same level of attention, ambition and determination it has shown in the fight against climate change, an environmental conference in Abu Dhabi has heard.

Nicolas Niemtchinow, French ambassador to the UAE, said the world’s oceans were precious but it was now clear they were “endangered”.

The rallying call came at the Towards the UN Ocean Conference 2025 event at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi on Thursday, where Mr Niemtchinow said their good health were essential to humanity’s future.

“The fight against climate change cannot be achieved without protecting our oceans as [they] are crucial to capture carbon,” he said, referring to how they absorb carbon dioxide emissions and capture heat.

“The good health of the oceans are essential to our future.”

'Cop28 of the oceans'

The one-day event heard from international public and private experts, researchers and industry leaders about how to preserve the oceans, ensure coastal resilience and enhance sustainable use of marine resources.

It also looked ahead to the major oceans summit in 2025 – the UN Ocean Conference – which is being co-organised by France and Costa Rica.

“We want to mobilise the international community,” said Mr Niemtchinow. “We want this to be the Cop28 of the oceans.”

Francisco Chacon Hernandez, ambassador of Costa Rica to the UAE, said it was crucial to remember the people whose livelihoods depended on the oceans. “We have to think … about that human component,” he said.

Mr Hernandez said he thought about the daily lives of fisherman and all those who make a living out of the sea and it was important that those in the scientific world, such as at the conference, helped solve the problems the oceans were facing.

“This problem cannot go on,” he said. “The ocean cannot be more contaminated than it is and we need to be part of the solution.

“We need to speak strongly. We need to speak loudly. We need to speak with one word. And the word is ocean.”

The world’s oceans cover 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface. Billions of people around the world depend on them for jobs and food. UN statistics show it supplies half the oxygen we breathe, absorbs about a third of the carbon dioxide we produce and captures 90 per cent of additional heat generated from those emissions.

But human activity is imperilling the oceans causing warming seas and rising acidity threatening ecosystems and livelihoods.

Attendees at the conference heard about the important of mangrove conservation, marine life observation projects, the threat of marine plastic pollution and the importance of climate finance.

“It is really important for France to work on the preservation of the oceans because we are very involved in them,” Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi vice-chancellor Prof Nathalie Martial-Braz, told The National.

“We are a huge ocean country,” she said, referring to France’s overseas presence across the world.

“This conference is important because it is the first launch of the journey towards the UN Ocean Conference,” she said.

Ms Martial-Braz said the run-up is similar to a Cop, with rounds of meetings and preparatory talks before the event itself takes place in Nice next year.

“We need to involve all the different stakeholders … and the Middle East and North Africa region is one of the most important.”

Admiral Christophe Prazuck, director of the Ocean Institute at Sorbonne University Alliance in Paris and the new ocean institute at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi said marine resources and ecology were central to the event’s discussions.

“Like camels and oryx, fishes don’t read maps and don’t see frontiers,” said Mr Prazuck, who was chief of staff of the French Navy.

“Neither do plankton, marine mammals and micro-algae. But they feel and react to heatwaves, salt, pH, oxygen, light, turbidity, chemical or plastic pollution.

One country alone … cannot tackle the issues. The ocean, like our atmosphere, biodiversity or climate, requires powerful international co-operation.”

Updated: May 30, 2024, 8:16 PM