From 30 November to 12 December, Heads of State, ministers and negotiators, along with climate activists, mayors, civil society representatives and CEOs met in Dubai for the largest annual gathering on climate action. The main outcome was a historical global commitment to transition away from fossil fuels by 2050, but countries also conducted a first-ever Global Stocktaking exercise, to take inventory of where the world stands on climate action and support, identifying the gaps, and working together to agree on solutions pathways (to 2030 and beyond).
The outcome document of the Global Stocktake made several references to the ocean, from the preamble to the guidance and ways forward, which are discussed in detail in this article from the Ocean and Climate Platform.
Beyond the focus on fossil fuels, COP28 showcased important outcomes from the ocean and climate change dialogues which are now taking place every year in June.These have gathered strength and visibility within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes, and highlighted the need to strengthen ocean-based systematic observations, research and data management to support science-based decision making for climate action.
With the launch of the Ocean Breakthroughs ahead of COP28, the ocean community now has a rallying point for pushing for ocean action and investments to deliver on climate goals. This will be key on the road to the next climate conferences to be held in Azerbaijan in 2024 and Brazil in 2025.
UNESCO at COP28
UNESCO was present at COP28 hosting various side events and discussion panels, and its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC/UNESCO) participated in a large coalition of partners committed to making the ocean more central to climate negotiations and informing delegates about the potential of the ocean to support climate action.
The Ocean Decade teamed up with OceanX to host a pavilion for the entire duration of COP28, providing opportunities for in-depth discussions about the role of science in protecting the ocean, strengthening ocean-climate action, and increasing commitment to developing the knowledge necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C and stabilize the Earth’s climate. With curated roundtables focused on the Ocean Decade Challenges and engaging visual media, the pavilion was a hotspot for discussion on ocean-climate solutions.
Several flagship Ocean Decade Programmes that are focusing on the generation of ocean-climate solutions were showcased during a half-day event in the Ocean Pavilion. This event also featured high-level keynote presentations on the critical science and knowledge gaps that the Ocean Decade is filling, including via the Vision 2030 process, the links between ocean science and the UNFCCC process, and the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve the vision of the Ocean Decade for a healthy and resilient ocean by 2030.
The Ocean Decade was also featured in diverse events with key partners including discussions led by Fugro on the importance of ocean data, and on the role of philanthropy to support ocean science and innovation with Cortes Solaris Foundation and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation. This dialogue explored the impacts of and solutions to various ocean-climate stressors from ocean acidification to deoxygenation.
Marine and coastal nature-based solutions were widely recognised in the global stocktake outcome for their vital role for effective and sustainable climate action.
Eight countries (Australia, Costa Rica, Fiji, France, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, the United Kingdom and the United States of America) showcased their efforts in progressively integrating blue carbon into national climate action during an official side event on “Blue Carbon Coastal Wetlands in Climate Action: Taking Stock of Nature-based Solutions in Practice”, co-organised by the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC), the Ocean and Climate Platform and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The IPBC is an initiative of the Australian Government jointly coordinated with IOC/UNESCO, which brings together over 50 governments, IGOs, NGOs and research institutions from around the world. At COP28, Japan announced they joined the IPBC as the latest Partner, bringing the total number of countries in this global effort to 18.
Overall, almost 30 side events covering blue carbon and the role of coastal wetlands in climate action were organised and co-organised by IPBC Partners in Dubai, including a blue carbon dialogue in the Ocean Decade + OceanX pavilion hosted by the Global Ocean Decade Programme for Blue Carbon (GO-BC) and a high-level event in the French Pavilion on a High Level Ambition Group on blue carbon contributing to achieving the goals of the IPBC, with representatives from Australia, Costa Rica, France and Monaco.
Ocean stress (Ocean acidification and deoxygenation)
Ocean acidification and deoxygenation are direct results of increased CO2 emissions to the atmosphere and in the ocean. Over the course of COP28, IOC/UNESCO showcased its initiatives related to these changes in the ocean at several side events, dialogues and mandated events.
The IOC/UNESCO-supported Global Ocean Observing Network and the IOC/UNESCO co-led Decade programme Ocean Acidification Research for Sustainability (OARS) explained the impacts of ocean acidification and ocean health during the Earth Information Day World Cafe and explored together with the audience possible ways how ocean observation can support innovative mitigation and adaptation strategies.
The topic was also strongly promoted by IOC/UNESCO during a dialogue with foundations, other UN organizations, IGOs and government representatives at the Ocean Decade + OceanX pavilion, which allowed to identify concrete OARS activities for 2024, and through a side event on ‘Leveraging UN Mechanisms for Local OA Adaptation and Resilience’, inviting new partners to join OARS and submit related OARS commitments.
Deoxygenation remains overlooked at many discussions addressing the impacts of climate on the ocean during UNFCCC events. To counter this perennial trend, IOC/UNESCO, together with the Global Ocean Oxygen Network, the Ocean Decade programme Global Ocean Oxygen Decade, and other partners organized an event at the Ocean Pavilion entitled ‘Climate Change, Deoxygenation and Biodiversity in the High Seas and Deep Sea: Interactions and Policy Opportunities’ to showcase the importance of ocean oxygen observations.
Ocean observing and data
The annual mandated Earth Information Day 2023 (EID 2023) provided a dialogue for exchanging information on the state of the global climate system and developments in systematic observation.
The IOC/UNESCO-led Global Ocean Observing System participated in the high-level plenary and World Cafe elements of EID 2023, highlighting the need for sustained and strengthened global ocean observing to support understanding of the climate system and as the scientific basis for action on adaptation, mitigation and early warning systems.
EID 2023 was attended by over 250 participants and fed directly into negotiations on systematic observation under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). Parties’ conclusions highlighted the importance of sustained, long-term observations of the Earth system and the need to address data gaps including for the ocean and coastal regions.
Parties recognized the new WMO-led Global Greenhouse Gas Watch, aimed at establishing sustained, routine global monitoring of greenhouse gas concentrations and fluxes, of which strengthening monitoring of these fluxes at the ocean/atmosphere interface is vital. And there was a call for extending the support from the Systematic Observations Financing Facility more broadly to the systematic observation community.
Ocean Literacy is increasingly recognised as a fundamental goal for the society as a whole if we want to promote a more harmonious and equitable relationship between humanity and the ocean. This includes, of course, promoting a better understanding of the ocean – climate nexus and developing specific educational programmes related to it.
A targeted dialogue event was held at the Ocean X + Ocean Decade pavilion, promoted by IOC/UNESCO, Communications Inc. and the Federal University of Sao Paulo, discussed how we can leverage the power of strategic communication to convey messages related to the importance of the ocean as the centre of the climate solutions discourse. Journalists, activists and influencers from Africa, from Brazil and from the MENA regions discussed how to develop capacity development initiatives to ensure that the information provided by the traditional and non-traditional media are based on scientifically sound information.
The blue school concept, federated by UNESCO, has been successfully promoted by many countries and regions around the world, including Europe, Africa, North, Central and South America. Blue Schools bring the ocean into the classroom. On the journey to becoming a Blue School, teachers and pupils will improve their understanding of the ocean and develop a sense of responsibility towards our shared planet.
At COP28, IOC/UNESCO and the Federal University of Sao Paulo, and in the context of the Ocean Decade Ocean Literacy With All Programme, organised three side events on how the blue school programme can become a testing group for the UNESCO Blue Curriculum proposal, advocating for the inclusion of ocean literacy in curriculum frameworks.
About the IOC/UNESCO:
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development.
About the Ocean Decade:
Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.