Commonwealth countries taking lead on ocean-based climate action

A 14-strong international panel working to accelerate action for ocean protection features seven Commonwealth member countries.

Australia, Canada, Fiji, Namibia, Ghana, Jamaica and Kenya all helped produce a report unveiled at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit which found that ocean-based climate action can play a much bigger role in shrinking the world’s carbon footprint than was previously thought.

In fact it could deliver up to a fifth of the annual greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed in 2050 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Reductions of this magnitude are larger than annual emissions from all current coal fired power plants world-wide.

The report, launched in New York, is entitled ‘Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change: 5 Opportunities for Action’ and was produced by an expert international high-level panel made up of 14 heads of state and government.

The study is the first ever comprehensive, quantitative analysis into the role ocean-based solutions can play in the fight against climate change.

The report suggests the following solutions would help curb climate change, contribute to the development of a sustainable ocean economy, protect coastal communities from storms, provide jobs and improve food security:

  • Scaling up ocean-based renewable energy – which could save up to 5.4 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050, equivalent to taking over a billion cars off the road each year.
  • Decarbonising domestic and international shipping and transport – which could cut up to 1.8 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050.
  • Increasing the protection and restoration of “blue carbon” ecosystems – mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes – could prevent approximately 1 gigatonne of CO2e from entering the atmosphere by 2050.
  • Utilising low-carbon sources of protein from the ocean, such as seafood and seaweeds, to help feed future populations in a healthy and sustainable way

Australia is investing AUD$70 million in the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), a 10-year $329 million collaboration between 45 Australian and international partners to develop innovative and sustainable offshore industries to increase Australian seafood and marine renewable energy production.

Fiji is committing to making its shipping sector 100 per cent carbon-free by 2050 while Kenya will incorporate blue carbon ecosystems into its nationally determined contribution, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF.

Namibia is committing an additional US$5 million towards ocean research and protection over 2019/2020.

The report comes on the back of significant progress on the Commonwealth Blue Charter, Agreed unanimously by leaders in April 2018, the Blue Charter commits all 53 member countries to work together on solving crucial ocean-related challenges.

To date, 12 ‘champion’ countries have stepped forward to rally fellow members around nine key areas, including marine pollution, ocean acidification and the sustainable blue economy.

‘Fiji is leading on the Blue Charter Action Group on ‘oceans and climate change’, Kenya on the ‘sustainable blue economy’, Australia is co-leading on ‘coral reef protection and restoration’ and Canada on ‘ocean observation’.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources, Nick Hardman-Mountford, said: “This report unequivocally shows that ocean based climate action is integral to reducing the global carbon footprint.

“Commonwealth countries have already come forward with game changing commitments. The Commonwealth Blue Charter that all Commonwealth countries adopted last year provides an action-orientated collaborative mechanism for countries to address ocean issues. We look forward to working with the Commonwealth countries to share experiences, take real action and lead the way forward.”

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said: “Fiji is leading Pacific Island States in a united and visionary response to the ocean’s untapped potential to combat global warming.

“We are collectively committed to cutting 40 per cent of emissions from Pacific shipping by 2030, and we’re making our shipping sector 100 per cent carbon-free by 2050. Together, we’re moving towards managing our waters sustainably.”

‘This report was swiftly followed by a study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which warned that humanity is in a race against the pace of climate change and our ability to respond to it and calls for urgent, ambitious and collaborative action.

Ministers commit to join forces in climate change fight

Environment ministers from across the Commonwealth have jointly committed to work together to tackle the devastating impacts of climate change, build resilience and collaborate on ocean action.

During a roundtable side event at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, ministers with responsibility for the environment, oceans and climate change representing 26 countries across the Commonwealth agreed to a statement which commits them to work together “to tackle and reduce the devastating impacts of climate change on our countries’ peoples, economies, land and ocean environments”.

The written statement went on to add: “We will share our experiences and ideas to formulate multilateral actions across the Commonwealth”.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland opened the meeting entitled ‘Advancing ambition and accelerating action – Dialogue on climate change, resilience building and ocean action’.

She told ministers: “No country in our Commonwealth family is unaffected by the impacts of climate change.

“Now is the moment for us to bring our collective voice to bear on these defining issues of our time.”

The event was designed to boost the Commonwealth’s efforts towards reducing emissions, accelerating the rate of resilience-building and adaptation and using natural and marine resources in a sustainable manner (otherwise referred to as green and blue growth).

Ministers also:

  • Reaffirmed the need to pursue efforts to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C, as documented in the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report
  • Highlighted the commitments of Commonwealth countries to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement through revised nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020
  • Acknowledged the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and emphasised the role of the ocean in addressing climate change
  • Discussed the success of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s programmes on climate finance, cooperation on ocean action (Blue Charter), resilience building (including disaster risk finance portal, debt management, sustainable economic development) and sustainable energy transition and regenerative development.

The Secretary-General drew attention to the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, a service designed to help member countries untangle red tape around climate financing and make successful applications to international funds designed to tackle climate change effects.

She said: “The financing gaps for climate action, both for mitigation and adaptation measures remains significant. This hub is a hugely valuable addition to the pool of Commonwealth resources and practical assistance.”

Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, who delivered the keynote address added: “One of the problems of being a small state is lack of capacity – that’s why the Commonwealth and its many toolkits and the Climate Finance Access Hub are so important. But now the question is, how do we scale it up?”

In fact the hub has helped member countries access a total of USD 27million of funding – more than 35 times the original start-up investment of AUD 1 million from Australia.

Furthermore, nearly half a billion USD has been applied for and is in the pipeline for climate action projects across the Commonwealth.

Ministers also discussed the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a commitment to promote good ocean governance and protect the ocean, back by action groups to tackle threats such as pollution, over-fishing and the effects of climate change through shared, innovative approaches. They highlighted the inextricable link between climate change and ocean action.

To date, 12 countries have stepped forward to be Commonwealth Blue Charter Champions on nine topics identified as priorities. Topics include coral reef protection and restoration, ocean acidification, marine plastic pollution and marine protected areas.

Ministers agreed to meet again at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December, which is being badged as the ‘blue COP’. They will develop proposals for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2020 in order to strengthen financing mechanisms and help Commonwealth countries fulfil their climate mitigation, adaptation and ocean action commitments.

Canada gives $2.7 million boost for Commonwealth Blue Charter

New funding from the Government of Canada will help protect marine health and promote good ocean governance, aligned with the Commonwealth Blue Charter’s action group on ocean observation.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement made by the 53 member states to actively co-operate to solve ocean-related problems and achieve sustainable ocean development.

As one of world’s largest maritime nations, Canada champions one of nine ‘action groups’ that take the lead in rallying member countries and coordinating joint actions around a range of pressing ocean issues.

This week, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Jonathan Wilkinson announced a tranche of $2.7 million to advance ocean observation through innovation and development, and to promote the sharing of data, knowledge and best practices amongst Commonwealth countries. Better access to information will ensure decisions, products and services are based in ocean science.

Mr Wilkinson said: “Our government is committed to making our waters cleaner, safer and healthier for now and future generations. This investment will allow for continued innovation while working closely with our Commonwealth partners to share our ocean knowledge and make it accessible.

“Along with our focus on improving ocean data, we are committed to making gender equality and youth representation in the ocean sciences a priority. We continue to work with our Commonwealth partners and scientists of all backgrounds to further our knowledge of the ocean and how to protect it.”

Commonwealth Head of Oceans and Natural Resources, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford added that ocean observations are critical to understanding its impacts on people, communities and ecosystems.

The action group will develop strategies to build ocean literacy and inclusiveness – raising awareness about ocean issues, while engaging different sections of society, including marginalised groups. It aims to increase opportunities for women and youth in all disciplines, including science.

Dr Hardman-Mountford said: “Ocean observations allow countries to collect data, track trends, make new discoveries, and take science-backed policy decisions, which are all indispensable to achieving sustainable ocean governance.”

The funding announcement follows the first meeting of the action group in Ottawa, Ontario in May. Members outlined priorities and an action plan, and agreed to hold annual meetings to review progress on the various initiatives planned.