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COP28 Dubai Ocean Declaration Recognizes the Critical Role of the Ocean in Regulating Climate Change

Partners of the Ocean Pavilion at COP28 and associated stakeholders are calling on world leaders to recognize the importance of the ocean in climate and support efforts to expand and improve ocean observations worldwide, including expanding coverage in under-observed regions. The COP28 Dubai Ocean Declaration comes ahead of the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP), to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 30 – December 12, and emphasizes the need for ocean science and observations as critical for understanding ongoing global climate changes.

 The ocean plays a critical role in regulating Earth's climate and has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat and almost 30% of the excess carbon dioxide caused by human activity. Consequences of these changes include extreme weather events, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, coral reef mortality, and an increase in low-oxygen zones. Despite this, international investment in ocean observing systems has not kept pace with the need for critical information to guide decision-making. As a result, a central theme of the COP28 Dubai Ocean Declaration is a call on world leaders to "support and foster efforts to greatly expand and improve ocean observations worldwide."

 As the planet continues on a path to exceed 1.5°C increase over pre-industrial temperatures, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that society may need to bolster emissions cuts with atmospheric carbon dioxide removal to meet the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. A 2021 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine found that natural ocean processes could help, but that accelerated research is needed to assess the benefits, risks, and potential for responsible scale-up of the most promising ocean-based carbon dioxide removal strategies. 

 The COP28 Dubai Ocean Declaration calls on the parties of the UN Climate Conference to adopt measures that enhance protections of the ocean and include several key points into the two-week long negotiations. According to the Declaration, "As the largest, most dynamic reservoir of carbon in Earth's climate system, the ocean can and must play a central role in efforts to achieve net-negative emissions and meet the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. As a critical part of other life-sustaining planetary processes, the ocean must also be protected from continued anthropogenic change, including any climate mitigation efforts and especially as the rapidly changing Earth system becomes less predictable." 

 The Declaration underscores the call for drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions and immediate concrete efforts to curb other human-induced damages to the ocean, such as overfishing, habitat destruction, and marine pollution, in addition to advancing ocean-based solutions. 

 "The immediate priority is to drastically reduce carbon emissions within the next decade," said Peter de Menocal, President and Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a co-signer of the Declaration. "At the same time, we must explore ways to remove existing emissions from the atmosphere to meet the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. The ocean presents viable, scalable opportunities for carbon dioxide removal. But independent science must lead, and this requires a new era of collaborative, international ocean observing to track changes in ocean carbon flows, ecosystem health, and to monitor the vital signs of a vast and rapidly changing ocean upon which we all depend."

 Specific efforts spelled out in the COP28 Dubai Ocean Declaration include:

  • Improve global stocktake estimates and measures of progress towards goals laid out in the Paris Agreement by providing better measures of carbon fluxes through the ocean and a more comprehensive view of Earth's ocean-climate system.
  • Implement robust, cooperative environmental monitoring, reporting, and verification of new and emerging ocean-based carbon dioxide removal strategies to ensure measurable progress towards net-negative emissions while also protecting critical ocean ecosystems.
  • Expand observing capabilities to measure the widest possible suite of essential climate and biological variables to better understand and address the impacts of climate change on the distribution of ocean life, marine ecosystem health, biomass, and biodiversity.
  • Develop capacity among island nations and developing countries and refine methods to account for contributions by the ocean's natural functions and the blue economy to climate stabilization through nationally determined contributions and national adaptation plans.

"We need to scale up ocean observing systems to fully understand climate impacts and build a more resilient society," said Margaret Leinen, Vice Chancellor for Marine Sciences at UC San Diego, and Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "With this Declaration, we want negotiators at COP28 to prioritize supporting ocean observations like Argo and other technologies that give us the full picture of what's happening below the surface including changes to ocean ecosystems, and invest in capacity development in small island developing states on the front lines of climate change where critical ocean data could be greatly expanded." 

 More than 45 international ocean science, policy, and philanthropic organizations have signed the COP28 Dubai Ocean Declaration to date.

 The Ocean Pavilion is a dedicated space in the Blue Zone at COP28 that returns for a second year to put the ocean center-stage at a crucial time in international climate negotiations. The pavilion brings together diverse and influential partners who will call for ocean-focused solutions to be recognized as critical in the world's response to the climate crisis. Throughout the two-week conference, the pavilion will feature more than 80 events, meetings, and in-depth discussions in a 60-seat main theater, as well as an additional three dozen videos in a separate Immersion Theater, all of which elaborate on a set of conference themes, including Rising Seas, Climate & the Living Ocean, and Blue Economy & Finance. Visitors will also be able to learn more about the work of Ocean Pavilion partners and to speak with scientists, thought leaders, and students engaged in the search for solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges.

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