Scientists don’t think the climate summit is blue enough

29 October, 2021

On Sunday, it’s time for the UN’s annual climate summit (COP), which this year goes by the acronym COP26. This year’s meeting takes place in Glasgow and the demands on the countries are high. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has called this year’s climate summit crucial, as the world is far from staying within the framework of the Paris Agreement.

At the same time, the current effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, both above and below the surface. Glaciers are melting, while the oceans are getting warmer and more acidic. So how will you deal with the oceans, which cover two-thirds of our planet, during COP26?

On the link from Saudi Arabia, we get hold of Carlos Duarte, a researcher in marine biology and oceanography at King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia. Duarte himself is going to Glasgow next week to, as he says, “participate in panel debates, but also act as an adviser to nations on the ground”. However, Duarte does not believe that the countries’ national emissions targets will be tightened in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

” After the UN has reviewed the countries’ own emissions targets, the world is still moving towards a 2.7 degree warming. I may see a possibility that it may now decrease to 2.3 – 2.4,” he says.

Emissions must be reduced by 7.6% per year

But Duarte doesn’t seem particularly worried, saying emissions reductions are a process that takes time.

” There is nothing in the Paris Agreement that says that we must have reached the goal within 4-6 years. The only sticking point is that we should be climate neutral by 2050.

However, it becomes more difficult to reach the 1.5 degree target with each passing day. If we want to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals, emissions need to be reduced by 7.6 percent every year.

Carlos Duarte
Carlos Duarte himself will be present during the climate negotiations in Glasgow.
Photo: Private

“I don’t think you should be desperate. I don’t know what it was like in Sweden last year, but since April 2020, there were 4.6 billion people who had to go into quarantine. In some countries, you still need to be quarantined. The fact that so many people sat at home, for months, only led to a seven percent reduction in emissions, which I think gives us a clear indication of what it means to reduce our emissions.

On the other hand, Carlos Duarte emphasizes that it is important that the countries of the world finally reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and that in their commitments they balance both protecting carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, while reducing their emissions. But he doubts that the oceans will take up much space during the meeting in Glasgow, even though the UN itself has designated 2020-2030 as the decade of the sea.

“There has been progress in recent years, and that is that it has been realised that the oceans can be part of the solution to the climate crisis. But when most of us think about the climate crisis, we only think of greenhouse gas emissions, but we don’t know that 38% of emissions also come from the fact that we have destroyed ecosystems. Therefore, we should also focus on the fact that 38% of the solution to the problem should also come from restoring ecosystems.


The UN has made the mistake of dividing problems into different compartments

Restoring ecosystems and making decisions to protect nature or biodiversity is not something that is discussed within the climate summit. Instead, it will be discussed at other meetings, including the biodiversity (CBD) meeting that will take place in April next year. The fact that biodiversity is largely ignored during the climate summit is something Duarte sees as a problem.

“One of the UN’s big mistakes is to isolate substances in different compartments. And now we have to look at the connection between these problems. Nowhere in the Paris Agreement does it say that biodiversity must be taken into account in its goals, but it is discussed at other meetings at a later date.

But Duarte would like to highlight that cooperation between the various groups within the UN is getting better. Among other things, he mentions that he was one of the authors of a report released earlier this year, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Panel on Biological Diversity (IPBES) wrote together.

“It was the first of its kind. Ever.

One issue that has a major impact on the climate, but which has taken place outside the climate summit, is whether 30% of the world’s oceans can be protected by 2030, in line with biodiversity targets. It was a process that was to be completed in 2020, but which also had to be postponed to the future. It is probably not an issue that will be solved during this year’s climate summit, says Carlos Duarte, because the oceans are seen more as an ecosystem and fall under the category of biodiversity. Therefore, the issue of ocean protection will continue to be addressed in separate meetings.

– The world’s oceans are not a member state of the UN. They are not a nation, they are rather the absence of a nation. Since the Roman Empire, the sea has been called “terra nullius”, which means that the sea is no man’s land. And it has continued to be treated that way.

The Swedish environmental lawyer wants the entire world ocean to be protected

Lena Gipperth is an environmental lawyer and is the director of the Centre for Sea and Society at the University of Gothenburg. She believes that all international waters should be protected.

– That should be the presumption, and then remove the protection or allow some handling if you can show that there are special needs and without serious consequences.

She believes that if only 30 percent of the sea is protected, there is a risk that the remaining 70 percent will be exploited harder. The problem, she says, lies in how the unprotected ocean is handled.

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t protect the areas. But the disadvantage is that then there can be a lot of pressure in the sea outside them.

Len Gipperth
Len Gipperth is an environmental lawyer and director of Sea and Society at the University of Gothenburg.
Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist

Carlos Duarte agrees with Lena Gipperth’s proposal.

“Creating nature reserves is part of the solution. But there are also other things we need to focus on, such as how we protect species. A whale doesn’t care if you protect 30 percent of the ocean, one day it gets outside the nature reserve and can then get hit by a ship,” he said.

“We shouldn’t have any more oil”

When the countries of the world discuss transition, green technology is a topic that often recurs. There, the pressure on metals and minerals is very high, and several untapped mineral and metal resources are found on the pristine seabed.

However, few researchers have been given the opportunity to investigate these areas, and interventions in these ecosystems could cause great damage to the ecosystem. Both Gipperth and Duarte understand the need for minerals and metals, but are both opposed to starting offshore mining.

Gipperth also addresses the need to stop offshore fossil fuel extraction.

“We need to close oil extraction and not open more oil fields. Especially in the Arctic with its delicate ecosystems. It seems to be seen as an impossible political requirement, but it goes without saying that it needs to happen. We shouldn’t have any more oil,” she says.

But Lena Gipperth does not see it as particularly likely that the countries will sign an agreement that would completely stop the extraction of fossil fuels.

“The sea is the solution to the entire climate issue” – but least financed by all sustainability goals

She therefore hopes that Per Bolund, Sweden’s climate and environment minister, will use his time at the meeting to ensure that the EU maintains its commitments, but also presses for the importance of protecting 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.

“The sea is the solution to the entire climate issue, you could say. If we do not get it included, then we have lost the opportunity to deal with the climate issue, she says.

Protecting the oceans is one of the UN’s global sustainability goals. It is also the least funded, the environmental lawyer points out.

“We need to push for funding to protect marine environments, especially in poor areas. It is particularly important that we protect seagrasses, mangroves, wetlands in coastal zones that bind carbon. Every year, seven percent of the seagrass surface in the world is lost. Studies show that seagrass meadows store carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests and 40 times faster than forests in general. In Sweden, all shallow bays should also be protected.

Few have missed the urgency of the situation for the seas. But Carlos Duarte believes that we must invest in several solutions. And these solutions need to be characterized by hope.

– “Fesinta Lente” is a quote used by the Roman emperor Augustus, among others. It means “hurry slowly” and it fits well when we talk about the climate crisis. You need to hurry slowly when you can’t afford to make a mistake. Hysteria and chaos do not help.

climate summit
The 2019 Madrid climate summit would focus on the sea. But according to Carlos Duarte, the focus was not enough.

“Then we might as well turn on the engine and close the door”

Duarte sees that the greatest threat to the oceans is that man gives up.

“There are a lot of depressing future scenarios, and shocking the public with dark images of the future we’ve been testing for 30 years now, and it hasn’t worked very well.

Duarte mentions that there have been studies on young people, where many say they suffer from climate anxiety and see no bright future. While it’s important to know the consequences of the climate crisis, Duarte wants to shift the focus from the problem to the solutions.

“If we give up, then we might as well go into the garage, turn on the engine and close the door. But we won’t get anywhere in such an attitude, and now it’s time to roll up our sleeves.

  • The first climate summit was held in Berlin in 1995. This year’s meeting is number 26 in a row, and has been postponed for a year due to the pandemic in 2020.

  • In 2015, the countries of the world signed the Paris Agreement, in Paris. This means that the countries of the world are committed to keeping global warming below 2 degrees and preferably not above 1.5 degrees.

  • According to a new report from the UN Climate Secretariat, the countries of the world are far from reducing emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, but are instead moving towards a near three-point warming. Something that, among other things, DN has reported on.

  • In 2019, a special report was published on the effects of climate change on the oceans. That report is called the ” IPCC Special Report on the Seas and Cryosphere”

Text: Fanny Jönsson

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