Cop28 can be 'breakthrough moment for world's oceans and nature'

Countries and private sector urged to increase funding for blue economy before crucial climate summit in Dubai

Ignace Beguin Billecocq, ocean lead for the UN High Level Climate Champions, has said ocean action and climate action are closely linked. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Powered by automated translation

The Cop28 climate change summit can be a breakthrough moment in efforts to protect the world’s oceans and nature, an expert has said.

Ignace Beguin Billecocq, ocean and coastal zones lead, supporting the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, said the event in Dubai was an opportunity to show how vital oceans were to efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Speaking at the Mena Oceans Summit in Dubai, Mr Billecocq said that while cutting carbon emissions was the priority, governments and businesses should use Cop28 to increase their efforts to protect the world's oceans.

“Ocean action is climate action and climate action is ocean action,” Mr Billecocq told The National.

“The Cop28 presidency has said nature should be at the core of the negotiation.”

Mr Billecocq called on countries to take stronger action on oceans as part of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – voluntary offers by countries to help reduce emissions.

“We don’t see that enough and, secondly, countries and the private sector have to scale up finance for the blue economy in areas such as marine conservation," he said.

Oceans cover about 70 per cent of the planet and represent the largest carbon sink.

Oceans absorb 25 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions and capture 90 per cent of the excess heat generated by these emissions, the UN said.

Oceans are critical in the fight against climate change, but increased emissions have warmed the world's waters.

“By increasing greenhouse gas emissions, we are limiting the capacity of the ocean to deliver on its role,” Mr Billecocq said.

“The number one priority is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the oceans are a true part of the solution.”

Cop28 will be held at Expo City Dubai from November 30 to December 12. It is envisaged there will be a day dedicated to the importance of nature, land and oceans.

Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for Cop28, said in May that there needed to be more awareness about how the natural world could support key environmental goals.

“My ambition is for [nature] to have a prominent place within the NDCs,” Ms Al Mubarak said.

“When countries report back on their NDCs, perhaps there needs to be a much more clear requirement on the nature-based side which isn’t present today.”

Right side of history

Cop25 mandated the first ocean and climate change dialogue, which was designed to underline their importance in tackling the climate crisis.

Cop26 mandated an annual dialogue and, in March, UN member states agreed to the first treaty to protect the world's oceans that lie outside national boundaries.

It is important to build on that momentum at Cop28, Mr Billecocq said.

While securing agreement will be a challenge, he is hopeful countries could make further progress.

But the current level of ambition is “far away from what we need”, he said.

“Businesses that want to be on the right side of history know they must decarbonise and make the investment now. Some are taking it seriously because they know regulation will come,” he said, referring to the EU's decision to introduce a carbon border tax from 2026.

“Companies must adapt. And the ones that have not been able to adapt earlier will face a stronger price and cost.

"It is not only talk and greenwashing. I don’t think we are going big and fast enough but there is some progress.”

Mr Billecocq was speaking at the start of the inaugural two-day summit, which ends on June 9, that focused on themes spanning ocean sustainability to tackling plastic waste.

It came on World Oceans Day and delegates also attended talks on biodiversity, conservation of the Red Sea’s coral reefs and how technology and traditional knowledge can be used to protect the planet’s seas and ecosystems.

“We talk about nature-based solutions such as planting trees in the desert but we have this carbon sink just here,” said Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder of the Goumbook. The social enterprise in the UAE is dedicated to promoting sustainability and organised the summit.

“Why are we not looking at this incredible nature-based solution and highlighting more ways of protecting oceans?"

Ms Antonelli Abella said it was important to learn from the world's oceans.

She also hopes people will return in a year's time to discuss "what we learnt and what we have done".

Updated: June 21, 2023, 4:06 AM