'The ocean is one of our best allies': Razan Al Mubarak aims to build on Cop28 momentum

Environmental leader highlights the need to 'scale up on ocean-based mitigation action' to drive climate action

Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for Cop28, at the Mena Oceans Summit on Monday. Antonie Robertson / The National
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A leading UAE environmental campaigner shined the spotlight on advancing ocean conservation as a critical component of the climate agenda.

“Following our progress at Cop28, we have integrated ocean conservation more deeply into our climate strategies,” said Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for Cop28.

Speaking at the second Mena Oceans Summit in Dubai, she highlighted how countries that backed the landmark move on fossil fuel at Cop28 had also agreed to “preserve and restore oceans and coastal ecosystems and scale up, as appropriate, ocean-based mitigation action”.

She said initiatives from the UN climate champions such as the "Oceans Breakthrough" were “essential for maintaining the resilience of our oceans against climate change”.

Ms Al Mubarak, who is also president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, also underscored how the outcome from Cop28 known as the UAE Consensus “turned the tide” on the use of fossil fuels, marking an “extremely significant” move from the region.

“We know we have incredibly resilient corals,” she said.

“We have got sea grass [beds] that have maintained dugong populations stable over the past two decades. Our mangroves as well.

“All of these incredible ecosystems underscore the importance of the blue economy to the Mena region. And not just for the climate but its livelihoods, its culture and economy.

“The ocean is one of our best allies in ensuring a resilient planet for all.”

The ocean as an ally was the main focus of the Dubai gathering.

Billions of people around the world depend on the world's oceans for jobs and food. UN statistics show that they supply half the oxygen we breathe and absorb about a third of the carbon dioxide we produce.

Human activity, however, is polluting the oceans and causing them to warm, putting their future health at grave risk.

However, the summit, now in its second year, showed that a fightback has begun.

From research into the Gulf’s heat-tolerant corals to Abu Dhabi’s efforts to conserve its fisheries through a combination of education, careful management and the banning of outdated and crude fishing methods such as gargour cages, the summit looked at the efforts taken regionally to protect this blue world.

Other panels discussed ways to engage local communities and indigenous populations, regenerative tourism in Saudi Arabia, sustainable desalination and the thorny issue of how to finance it all, with a report from Systemiq and HSBC Investment released at the event stating “blue bonds” could mobilise billions of dollars in finance to tackle the issue.

Talking about the importance of hosting such events in the UAE, Tatiana Antonelli Abella, organiser of the summit, told The National that it gives access to the “right people”.

“People stop me in the corridors and say they met the right people they never get to meet [otherwise] because they are based in other countries," said Ms Antonelli Abella, who is also founder of Goumbook, a social enterprise group dedicated to sustainability.

“It is very neutral ground.

“And it is very clearly about taking action. We want you to meet, create a partnership, share knowledge, but take action. This, for us, is the number one priority.”

It is hoped these summits can take place in other Middle East and North African countries in the future, she said.

Ms Antonelli Abella said one of the issues with ramping up efforts to protect the oceans, such as tackling pollution, is that it happens in an area outside of the control of individual countries. These issues can also be often politicised, she said.

“You need to see the support of the governments. You need to see the UN leading this.”

She said she felt Cop28 had increased the focus and debate around protecting the oceans, adding that the Middle East region had an important role to play due to its unique environment.

But there is a lot to do with the major oceans summit in 2025 – the UN Ocean Conference – coming up.

“For the region, it is important to say we are here,” she said.

“If the oceans are not healthy, we are doomed.”

Updated: June 11, 2024, 3:34 AM