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.

Secretary-General urges action on oceans at Malta meeting

The Commonwealth Secretary-General has emphasised the “immense urgency” of taking action to protect the world’s oceans.

Patricia Scotland joined representatives from the Commonwealth, United Nations, governments and other international organisations at the first meeting of Oceans Ambassadors, hosted by the Government of Malta.

Highlighting the “very pressing” issues of ocean health and sustainability, the Secretary-General said that more than one third of the world’s coastal ocean lies within Commonwealth jurisdictions, as do 42 per cent of coral reefs and the majority of the world’s small island developing states and territories.

“Forty-six of our 53 countries have a coastline – and three of the remaining landlocked states border great lakes,” she said.  “So it is entirely fitting that prominent and important roles at this meeting as leading champions of the Ocean should be played by Commonwealth citizens”.

The job of Ocean Ambassadors is to focus efforts on caring for oceans, ecosystems and environments – from shoreline to deep sea – and raising awareness of their importance and continued well-being. Ocean Ambassadors include experts, enthusiasts, scientists and conservationists.

The meeting is an initiative of the Maltese government and Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary General’s first Special Envoy for the Ocean, whose role is to drive the implementation of SDG14, the UN Sustainable Development Agenda’s goal to conserve and sustainably use the resources of the ocean.

Malta’s Foreign Minister, Carmel Abela, said that as a maritime archipelago, Malta viewed the sustainability of the world’s ocean as a top priority. He said his country was taking a proactive initiative in safeguarding the health and sustainability of its seas.

He added that as oceans are regulators of climate change, the decision to take a proactive global lead to raise awareness on a future joint action plan sends a strong message that healthy oceans and the preservation of marine areas is viewed as a priority internationally.

The Commonwealth would like to capitalise on upcoming high-level ocean events – including the 2020 UN Ocean Conference and the Our Ocean Conference, to be held in Oslo, as well as initiatives such as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Intergovernmental Conference, the UN Decade for Ocean Science, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy – and how these can better engage with the Commonwealth Blue Charter and its Action Groups.

In a presentation to the Ocean Ambassadors, Jeff Ardron, who leads the Commonwealth Blue Charter, explained that the its Action Groups are unique. Rather than setting top-down commitments, the member countries cooperatively set their own goals and targets to fit their circumstances.

ACU Blue Charter fellowships

Ten emerging scientists have been awarded fellowships at top Commonwealth universities to explore innovative ways to tackle plastic litter in the ocean.

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) announced the second cohort of the Blue Charter fellowship programme this week, which aims to advance the Commonwealth’s shared commitment to preserve and nurture the ocean.

ACU Chief Executive and Secretary General Joanna Newman said: “We are so proud to have the opportunity to launch a second cohort of Blue Charter Fellows – a group of outstanding researchers from universities across the Commonwealth.

“We look forward to showcasing the results that will make a difference in tackling one of the most pressing global issues of our time.”

Each researcher will spend up to six months in an ACU member institution, as well as in industry, devising new ways to clean up marine litter, prevent plastics from getting into the sea, and developing alternatives to plastics.

The awards are funded by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy [BEIS] and supermarket chain Waitrose & Partners, supported by the Commonwealth.

Award recipient Taiwo Hammed said the fellowship could help make a difference in his community in Lagos, the fastest-growing mega-city in Nigeria. Through the programme, he will be exploring just how much plastic enters the ocean through lagoons and drains, why they end up in the water, what risks they create for humans and the environment, and how to sensitise the community on sustainable plastic waste management.

Dr Hammed said: “By the end of this fellowship, the targeted communities along coastline in Nigeria would have become a role model in the country. The transformation would surely arouse the interest of policy makers across the world to think locally and act globally.”

New fellow Shantanu Saha will be researching coconut husk cutlery, as a substitute for plastic knives and forks in Bangladesh. This includes market research and recommendations for developing policies for sustainable cutlery.

Dr Saha said: “Learning from the sustainable campus initiatives of a renowned UK university would help me to work on how that can be applied at Universities in Bangladesh. My research would help to develop valuable sustainable policies when the world is concerned about the environmental impact of the use of plastic materials.”

Other research topics include the use of plastic waste as feedstock to generate solar fuel and managing plastic use sustainably in the fishing industry.

Each fellow is entitled to up to £14,000 to cover travel, accommodation and daily needs. Research grants of up to £4,000 will also be awarded.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “The Commonwealth Blue Charter is about realising our shared aspirations for the ocean in ways that make real impact, and offering concrete, scientifically-backed solutions to the challenges we face. We therefore welcome the new cohort of fellows and look forward to the tangible applications of their research.”

Full list of Blue Charter fellows:

Dr Steven Barrow (Australia)

Dr Timothy Biswisk (Malawi)

Miss Takunda Chitaka (South Africa)

Ms Freya Croft (Australia)

Dr Taiwo Hammed (Nigeria)

Dr Oluwarotimi Olofinnade (Nigeria)

Dr Shantanu Saha (Bangladesh)

Prof. Salom Gnana Thanga Vincent (India)

Dr Ubida Ubida (Nigeria)

Miss Robyn Wright (United Kingdom)

Blog: Commonwealth Blue Charter – A beacon of hope for the future of ocean governance

To mark World Oceans Day, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford shares how the Blue Charter can help spur lasting global change towards sustainable ocean governance.

In the depths of the Pacific Ocean, 11 km beneath the sea surface, lies the deepest known point in the Earth’s seabed known as the Challenger Deep. On this pitch black patch of the Mariana Trench, temperatures are just above freezing, and the ocean pressure is comparable to a one kilo weight on a single fingernail.

Here, just a few weeks ago, undersea explorer Victor Vescovo returned from the deepest ever solo expedition, only to report that he witnessed a plastic bag and candy wrappers, floating glibly on the ocean floor.

On this year’s Ocean Day, this disturbing find reminds us of two facts. The first is the scale not only of marine pollution, but the plethora of challenges the world faces in terms of ocean health. The second is the incredible opportunity we have to cooperate on a global scale to protect and manage one of our most precious natural resources.

A historic step towards united action

The Commonwealth covers a third of the world’s coastal oceans and nearly half of its coral reefs. The majority of the world’s small island developing states (SIDS) are Commonwealth, although they can be more accurately dubbed ‘large ocean states’ due to their vast oceanic domains or exclusive economic zones. Forty-six out of 53 Commonwealth members have a coastline, and three of the remaining landlocked states border great lakes.

For these countries, the ocean is everything – it represents their home, their livelihood, their history, culture, and their future.

Yet this future is under unprecedented threats. Global warming is causing ocean heatwaves that bleach kilometres of reefs; foreign trawlers are depleting fish stocks – often illegally; sea level rise is flooding homes and salinising the soil, and plastic junk is polluting waters and beaches while contaminating food supplies.

In response, 53 world leaders adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter in April 2018, unanimously agreeing to actively co-operate to solve ocean-related problems and achieve sustainable ocean development.

Progress and milestones

To date, 12 countries have stepped forward to lead on nine different topic areas or ‘action groups’. These include: Sustainable Aquaculture (led by Cyprus), Sustainable Blue Economy (Kenya), Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius), Mangrove Restoration (Sri Lanka), Ocean Acidification (New Zealand), Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji), Ocean Observations (Canada), Marine Plastic Pollution (United Kingdom, Vanuatu) and Marine Protected Areas (Seychelles).

Over 25 countries have signed up to these action groups, and counting.

Action-oriented and member-driven, the success of the Blue Charter is dependent on the level of passion or commitment from the countries to set goals, forge partnerships, and mobilise together. We believe this creates deeper and more enduring actions.

Key progress made by countries in implementing the Blue Charter includes:

  • A package worth up to £66.4 million pledged by the UK to fight marine plastic pollution through the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance;
  • Increased bans or restrictions on single use plastics, with more than 30 Commonwealth countries now taking action on plastic pollution;
  • Commitments by Seychelles and the UK to protect 30 per cent of their ocean waters by 2020;
  • The world’s largest conference on the sustainable blue economy hosted successfully by Kenya in November 2018, with more than 18,000 registered delegates from 184 countries;
  • Action group meetings hosted in UK, New Zealand and Canada on marine plastics, ocean acidification and ocean observation, to discuss concrete actions, tools and cooperation under the Blue Charter.

We have also received tremendous encouragement from the private and philanthropic sectors, for example:

  • British supermarket chain Waitrose has donated £500,000 to the Association of Commonwealth Universities to support Blue Charter fellowships for research on marine plastic pollution;
  • Ocean research organisation Nekton is partnering with the Commonwealth to build ocean scientific research capacity and knowledge in Indian Ocean countries. This includes ground-breaking deep sea exploration in Seychelles waters;
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies is partnering with the Commonwealth to direct their ocean conservation efforts to support member countries.

The first Commonwealth Blue Charter ‘All Champs’ conference on 18-21 June 2019 will bring together champion countries with international partners to strategise on more concrete actions to address our ocean priorities, and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14.

The momentum for action is rising, and there is a hope that the Commonwealth Blue Charter will help spur lasting global change towards sustainable ocean governance.