The survival of all life on Planet Earth is being fundamentally challenged by the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution in all its forms. At OceanCare we work to address all these matters, in recognition of their interdependency. The oceans are critical carbon sinks helping to naturally regulate the world’s climate, while the effects of climate change, including global warming, weaken the resilience of marine ecosystems. Here we offer some thoughts on the international climate change conference COP28 that recently took place in Dubai.

This 28th meeting of the nations which are Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as Conference of Parties (COP) 28, was heavily reported in the world’s media and much focus was given to the controversy of having the United Arab Emirates, which is a leading fossil fuel producer, both host and provide the chair for the meeting. It is telling that despite his role in coordinating a global deal to “transition” away from fossil fuels, Sultan Al Jaber, who was the CoP Chair, announced afterwards that his oil company will continue its investment in oil and gas production.

Certain governments which had been trying to promote a binding commitment towards a complete phase-out of burning hydrocarbon resources, including fossil fuels, now appear to be reporting the result of COP28 as a groundbreaking success. Their rationale for this is that the final decision text on the First Global Stocktake includes the following commitment: “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

This has been painted as the first time in 28 years of these climate change negotiations that such a commitment has been achieved, but the commitments fall short of what needs to be agreed upon to truly face the climate crisis. The agreed language lacks any clear targets or timelines, and is riddled with loopholes. Loopholes, such as, for example, the recognition that transition fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition, while ensuring energy security (para. 29 of the final agreed decision). “Transition fuels” is a euphemism for “natural gas”, which is a fossil fuel mainly composed of methane, itself a very potent greenhouse gas, whose warming power is 80 times that of carbon dioxide. We can expect the hydrocarbon industry to push back against the agreement or simply ignore it, whilst also continue to explore and exploit new oil and gas deposits, including in the ocean.

Achim Steiner, the head of the UN development programme, said: “Some are understandably frustrated that the agreed language could have been stronger on this issue. But it remains the most unequivocal signal to date that the world is moving beyond the fossil-fuel era.”

While this might be true in terms of being a “signal”, the climate change crisis demands a binding ‘road map’ with targets and dates agreed to impose measurable emissions cuts and a clear ban on any exploration activities of new hydrocarbon resources. Serious concerns that gas is promoted as a “transition fuel”, when most gas reserves must remain in the ground if climate change is to be halted, and that nuclear power is a very risky and expensive path have been expressed by many stakeholders.

Additionally, there is a further decision which is of upmost concern to OceanCare. Point 28e within the final decision reads: “Accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including, inter alia, renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low-carbon hydrogen production”. Similarly, point 35 invites Parties to “scale up, as appropriate, ocean-based mitigation action”, which may be interpreted by some as a licence to pursue marine geoengineering technologies.

This strong reliance on removal technologies, carbon capture and storage, and ocean-based mitigation is a dangerous distraction, which at scale present grave risks to marine and terrestrial ecosystems alike. Such technologies are unproven and likely to be environmentally and financially unsustainable. The promotion of new technologies additionally risks diverting global efforts to rapidly phase out key sources of pollution.

The core objective for the climate negotiations needs to be the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and nothing should distract from this. At OceanCare we are clear that all new fossil fuel production must be stopped, existing operations should be phased out, and the world should transition as swiftly as possible to economies and societies that function without fossil fuels. This will not be easy but it is necessary, and we should not be side-tracked and distracted by unproven techniques and technologies.

Next year the Climate Change COP will reconvene in what promises to be an especially challenging location: Azerbaijan, which it is a petrostate, 90% of whose export revenues and 60% of whose national budget comes from oil and gas. Despite this backdrop, one thing is clear, only deep, rapid and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors can limit global warming to 1.5°C this century, and ensure the life and health of our planet and its oceans.


Final decision of COP28 of the UNFCCC:

Carbon Brief:

Guardian newspaper: