Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Apr 12 2024
Oceans are the Next Big Topic: The 2024 World Ocean Summit

The ocean holds 60 times more carbon than our atmosphere, has a market value of US$3 trillion per year, provides livelihoods to 3 billion people, and supports 90% of the planet’s biosphere. But through a combination of overfishing, pollution, and climate change, our oceans and coasts are degrading rapidly.

There is no doubt that we need to act now to mitigate the impact of climate change and make coastal communities more resilient across the globe.
Palladium’s Laurie Thorn-Dalton points to events like the World Ocean Summit, which he recently attended in Lisbon, Portugal, as opportunities to galvanise collective action for oceans. Despite a disappointing lack of representation from the ‘Global South’, Thorn-Dalton came away from the recent Summit with reasons for hope.

An Ocean of Data

“A key constraint to marine conservation has always been the consistent lack of data,” Thorn-Dalton explains. “Whether that’s physical or biological data, there are large gaps in the necessary data to establish conservation areas and understand the complex biogeochemical interactions of our marine systems.”

He says that this lack of data was highlighted on the very first day of the conference through the technology and innovation series of talks. “With larger stores of carbon than previously thought being found outside of already established inshore marine protected areas, new findings reinforce that we must expand existing protected areas and establish new ones,” explains Thorn-Dalton.

Protecting these ‘carbon sinks’ from disturbances such as industrial fishing and seabed mineral extraction can avoid the release of the carbon contained in these ecosystems into the atmosphere.

“Development programs must acknowledge the lack of data that still plagues our understanding of ocean ecosystems. Better data collection will be fundamental for the future of marine conservation and the design of climate focused ocean and marine programs,” he adds.

Such programs should include both capacity building and funding of research and scientific institutions in the Global South as well as in lessons from local community and Indigenous knowledge.

Blue Finance

Another hot topic throughout the conference, he says, was investment in ocean conservation and the blue economy. “It is well known there is a financing gap to address the climate crisis and nowhere is this more acute than in ocean finance and the blue economy.”

“Without investment and willingness from not only the public sector but from the private sector, then conservation progress will not advance at the rate necessary to meet ambitious climate targets,” says Thorn-Dalton.

“The ocean investment space is largely considered nascent, with more immature investment opportunities compared to those available on land,” Thorn-Dalton explains. As such, blue finance opportunities are often considered too risky or do not meet investor ROI targets. But, there was an overarching sense from the conference audience that financial institutions need to better understand ocean investment opportunities in order to reduce assumptions of risk that don’t match the reality of well-designed projects on the ground.

Collaboration for Community Impact

Pathways to meet ambitious conservation targets were a consistent discussion throughout the conference. “Included among this was the potential for the landmark High Seas Treaty (now being negotiated), to contribute to and be a platform for the successful establishment and management of marine protected areas in the high seas.” Although the treaty is not yet ratified, there have been over 40 country signatories to the treaty which will provides a new framework for the management of ocean resources beyond national jurisdictions.

There were also significant discussions around building capacity within government, sub-national governments, and jurisdictions to address marine issues. Many coastal and island jurisdictions face similar issues when it comes to marine spatial planning, shared governance, monitoring, and enforcement, and the sustainable financing of marine protected areas.

This creates opportunities for collaboration and innovative partnerships to address common challenges.

One such challenge is that of improving livelihoods and increasing resilience for coastal and island communities, a topic which is unfortunately forgotten in some debates on ocean conservation. “Across much of our work, we’ve seen that engaging communities, and providing sustainable pathways out of poverty is essential if initiatives are to protect critical ecosystems on which humans rely. This is as important for coasts and oceans as it is for terrestrial ecosystems,” adds Thorn-Dalton.

Looking Ahead

2024 will be a major year to rally support for oceans. After the ocean conference in Lisbon, there will also be the Our Ocean Conference in Greece and the UN Ocean Decade conference in Barcelona in April. While the main focus in Barcelona will be on ocean science, in Greece, there will be a broad range of themes discussed surrounding ocean conservation, planning, and resource management, governance, and industry.

“With three large scale conferences in quick succession, the opportunities are there to galvanise action and increase momentum towards global climate and ocean conservation goals,” says Thorn-Dalton, “and hopefully these include more local participation to ensure community impact and livelihoods are part of the debate.”

For more, read 'Climate Solutions from South-East Asia' or contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com.