The ocean can be our best friend in tackling climate change

Momentum is building around the world to protect, manage and restore coastal ecosystems. It must be sustained

A marine scientist dives with flowering seagrass she collected, in Laboe, Germany. Reuters
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In the battle against climate change our greatest ally is the ocean. Not only does the ocean produce half of the world’s oxygen – making it truly the "lungs" of the earth – it is also the largest carbon sink, absorbing a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions and capturing 90 per cent of the excess heat generated by them. A healthy ocean is vital to protect us from the worst impacts of climate change.

Indeed, the ocean has more to offer to keep us safe. Research released last year by the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, reveals that ocean-based climate solutions could close the emissions gap by up to 35 per cent by 2050 on a 1.5°C pathway – a reduction equivalent to four times the annual emissions of European Union countries.

And yet for all the wonderful benefits that the ocean offers us, we are not in turn a good friend to it. Of all the UN Sustainable Development Goals, SDG14 (to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) is by far the least funded, representing just 0.01 percent of all development funding. According to the World Economic Forum, while $175 billion a year is needed to achieve SDG14, just below $10 billion in total was invested between 2015 and 2019.

Throughout Cop28, the ocean was given greater prominence within the process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The summit featured the largest ocean pavilion to date at a COP, and the agreed text invited parties, for the first time, to "preserve and restore oceans and coastal ecosystems and scale up, as appropriate, ocean-based mitigation action."

Another first for any Cop, we hosted the Oceans Ministerial – a heads of state-level event dedicated to the ocean. We mobilised $2.7 billion for nature finance and announced the historic Cop28 Joint Statement on Climate, Nature, and People, highlighting the interconnectedness of the climate and biodiversity crises.

At Cop28, we also launched the Ocean Breakthroughs, a roadmap with clear 2030 targets aimed at fostering a healthy and productive ocean by 2050. These breakthroughs focus on key sectors: marine conservation, ocean renewable energy, shipping, aquatic food and coastal tourism.

Complimenting these efforts to elevate the importance of our oceans, Cop28 issued an urgent call to protect mangroves. Mangroves are some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet, storing on average 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass and underlying soils.

They are a critical source of livelihoods for coastal communities and a strong line of defence against floods, drought and biodiversity loss. The Nature, Land Use, and Ocean Day at Cop28 focused on mangroves, the ocean, and shed light on the importance of implementing the newly adopted global biodiversity framework goal to protect 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030, and the complimentary goals of the Oceans and Mangrove Breakthroughs, which aim to restore and protect 15 million hectares of mangroves globally by 2030. In total, 21 countries formally endorsed this breakthrough and hundreds of non-state actors.

With over 70 per cent of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) now incorporating at least one ocean-based climate measure, momentum for ocean-based solutions is building.

As we approach the deadlines for updated Nationally Determined Contributions by 2025 and the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans this year, it is crucial that we build on this progress and ensure a more comprehensive integration of ocean solutions in our national plans coupled with the delivery of concrete actions to protect our blue carbon ecosystems.

One of the key challenges to protecting our ocean is raising finance to implement far-reaching solutions. While the $175 billion figure is a substantial amount, we need to consider that the blue economy, which includes livelihoods and other economic benefits derived from ocean, is estimated to be worth between $3 trillion and $6 trillion per year globally, per UN Trade and Development data.

Cop28 made progress on finance. At the summit, $100 million in finance was announced for Pacific Small Island Developing States from the Bezos Earth Fund for the Unlocking Blue Pacific Prosperity Plan.

This plan aims to protect 30 per cent of the countries’ waters and exclusive economic zones by 2030, representing an area larger than the surface of the moon. A group of philanthropies, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Builders Vision, and Oceankind, announced $250 million of new finance under the Ocean Resilience Climate Alliance, targeting protection for vulnerable marine areas, ocean-based mitigation efforts, and research on climate impacts.

The Mangrove Breakthrough Financial Roadmap to scale up capital flow into mangrove protection and restoration was endorsed by some of the world's largest financial institutions and provided a pathway to achieve the financial goals of the Mangrove Breakthrough.

But we need more, much more.

The Arabian Gulf countries, rich in corals, seagrasses, and mangroves, for which the blue economy is so central to livelihoods, culture and economy, should be at the forefront.

As we look ahead to the upcoming milestones such as the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, G20, Cop29, IUCN World Conservation Congress and the UN Ocean Conference in 2025, we have a unique opportunity to continue to drive collective actions to protect and sustainably manage our oceans.

Let’s seize this opportunity and ensure our oceans continue to be a source of life and a beacon of hope for generations to come, through stronger collaboration and ambition.

Published: June 07, 2024, 8:30 AM