Preparing for the 2023 UN Climate Conference (COP28)

By Mitchell Lennan and Elisa Morgera

Following the establishment of the much-anticipated mandate to integrate the ocean into all areas of work under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 26th Conference of Parties in Glasgow (COP26) in November 2021, and encouragement for countries to implement national ocean-based climate action under the Paris Agreement in 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh (COP27), this blog post reflects on our engagements with the UN Climate process in preparation for the next UN Climate Conference (30 November–12 December 2023). The following sections cover: the ocean-related developments at the Bonn Climate Conference 5–15 June 2023, including the Hub’s involvement in the Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue held on 13–14 June; a reflection on the Chairs’ report of the 2023 Ocean-Climate Dialogue; and our plans for COP28 in Dubai.

Bonn Climate Conference

Former Hub Deputy Director Bernadette Snow and Hub early-career researcher Mitchell Lennan participated in the Bonn Climate Conference, contributing to a consultation on human rights by UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change, and to the Ocean-Climate Dialogue.

Contributing to UN Special Rapporteur’s Consultation

Mitchell and Bernadette participated in a consultation held by UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, Ian Fry, in preparation for his upcoming report to the UN General Assembly on “Enhancing climate change legislation, support for climate change litigation and advancement of the principle of intergenerational justice”. They raised the fact that despite the presence of the principle of intergenerational equity within the international governance framework for the ocean and the climate change regime, there are yet to be any national or international climate change litigation applications that cite obligations under the law of the sea, or ocean-dependent human rights. This is important in the context of the 2023 UN General Comment on Children’s Rights and the Environment with a Special Focus on Climate Change, and the upcoming advisory opinions on obligations under the Law of the Sea and Climate Change at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), climate change obligations at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and on climate change and human rights at the International Court of Justice and Inter-American Court of Human Rights. After submitting an amicus brief to the ITLOS in June 2023, Hub researchers are working hard on a legal paper for the ICJ and the Inter-American Court.

Hub Deputy Director Dr Bernadette Snow and Hub Early-Career Researcher Mitchell Lennan pictured with UN special rapporteur on human rights and climate change Ian Fry. Photo Credit Jule Schnakenberg (edited by Elisa Morgera).

Hub Deputy Director Dr Bernadette Snow and Hub Early-Career Researcher Mitchell Lennan pictured with UN special rapporteur on human rights and climate change Ian Fry. Photo Credit Jule Schnakenberg (edited by Elisa Morgera).

Ocean-Climate Dialogue

The ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ for the first time integrated officially the ocean in all areas of work under the UNFCCC. The mandate for the Ocean-Climate Dialogue was included in the Glasgow Climate Pact which invited:

“the SBSTA Chair to hold an annual dialogue, starting at the fifty-sixth session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (June 2022), to strengthen ocean-based action and to prepare an informal summary report thereon and make it available to the Conference of the Parties at its subsequent session” (1/CP.26, para. 61).

Analysis of last-year’s Dialogue (9 June 2022) is available here. At COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Parties to the Paris Agreement welcomed:

“the outcomes of and key messages from the ocean and climate change dialogue in 2022 and decides that future dialogues will, from 2023, be facilitated by two co-facilitators, selected by Parties biennially, who will be responsible for deciding the topics for and conducting the dialogue, in consultation with Parties and observers, and preparing the informal summary report to be presented in conjunction with the subsequent session of the Conference of the Parties”

After consultations between the Dialogue Chairs, Parties and Observers, the themes of the 2023 Dialogue were decided to be 1) Coastal and ecosystem restoration including blue carbon; and 2) Fisheries and food security. Mitchell was invited to act as rapporteur for the discussions on the latter topic.

Opening of the Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue 2023 in the Plenary Hall. Photo: Mitchell Lennan

Opening of the Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue 2023 in the Plenary Hall. Photo Credit Mitchell Lennan

Following high-level remarks from Razan Al Mubarak, High Level Champion, COP28 Presidency, Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean and Simon Stiell, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, participants heard presentations from representatives from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (all slides can be viewed here). The CBD Secretariat pointed to the 2022 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework , and to the precautionary principle and ecosystem approach in the context of ocean-based carbon dioxide removal. The importance of State obligations under the CBD in this context have been highlighted in an article by Hub researchers.

On climate finance, the fact that the SDG14 is least-funded of the SDGs was repeated several times during discussions at the Dialogue. The Green Climate Fund clarified that this limited funding is across the board with all major climate funds contributing to ocean-based climate action the least. The Hub has published a policy brief suggesting that an ecosystem-based and human rights-based approach to ocean-climate measures, including to guide climate finance, should be elaborated outside the UNFCCC by connecting relevant expertise across the UN system and through an inclusive process across different knowledge systems.

The key points discussed in the dialogue comprised:

  • Parties should strengthen blue carbon accounting methodologies and tools;
  • Parties must embrace the IPCC Wetlands Supplement in their national GHG inventories to account for the contribution of “blue” carbon ecosystems in climate mitigation;
  • Natural national accounting, ecosystem mapping, and robust indicators must be advanced to support ocean-based climate action, monitoring, and evaluation;
  • Assessment of blue carbon storage, ocean acidification, and conducting impact assessments, including for CDR technologies, requires further observation and research;
  • Parties must consider linking their national climate policies with their blue food production, by adopting a systems/ecosystems-based approach that considers the whole life cycle value chain; and
  • Decarbonizing the entire value chain of aquatic food production, including fishing vessels and aquaculture practices, is integral to the just transition to renewable sources of energy and low carbon practices.

The key messages towards the Climate COP in November-December 2023 included that:

  • The global stocktake under the Paris Agreement is a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of the ocean in the global response to climate change;
  • the global stocktake political outcomes should promote the establishment of guidelines for Parties to include and strengthen ocean-based measures in their updated NDCs, NAPs, and other national strategies throughout future implementation of the Paris Agreement;
  • Institutional linkages must be strengthened between partners at national and international levels and across UN mandates and processes such as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to enhance global ambition and action for a climate resilient ocean.

The report of the Dialogue also included among future topics for the dialogue:incorporating gender-responsive and human-rights based approaches; integrating a stronger ocean mitigation focus (particularly “green shipping” and “responsible development of offshore wind and other marine renewable energy”); and addressing sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and synergies that consider deep ocean and marine areas beyond national jurisdiction. The Hub is looking forward to participating in these discussions at the next Dialogue.

Activities on children’s human rights

Also in June 2023, in partnership with UNITAR, the Hub also contributed to the Youth Climate Dialogue. Mitchell Lennan delivered a presentation on why is the ocean important in the context of climate change, and on the integration of the ocean under the international climate change regime. He also discussed the need for parties to the Paris Agreement to “blue” their nationally determined contributions, and the international human right of children to be heard and therefore be included in international decision making on the ocean-climate nexus.

In September, together with 26 other organisations who are part of the Human Rights and Climate Change Coalition, the Hub submitted a joint written submission titled “Elements for a Global Stocktake Decision that Enhances Human Rights-based Climate Action” to the UNFCCC. The Hub contributions focused on the ocean-climate nexus, ocean-land connections, the ecosystem-based approach, and small-scale fisheries. The submission has been published on the UNFCCC website here.

In early November, as part of our ongoing collaboration with the Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative, we are co-organising a webinar titled “Incorporating Child Rights at COP28: Briefing for Climate Negotiators” 2023. The Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative has worked with a broad coalition of child rights advocates, including the Hub, to produce a position paper on how child rights could be incorporated into the negotiations at COP28. At this event negotiators will be taken through the details of the position paper. The event, which will be held under Chatham House Rule, will provide space for negotiators to ask questions and offer their feedback about the proposed entry points and the suggested provisions for inclusion in the text.

The Hub at the Climate COP

At Climate COP28, the Hub is co-organising with the Alana Instituto and Child Rights International Network a side-event “General comment 26 on children’s rights and the environment with a focus on climate change: how can it be game changing at COP decisions with the lens of child rights” on 9 December, at 15:00—16:30 (Dubai time) in the Blue Zone. Our side-event will highlight how the General Comment No. 26 can help to ensure that all climate decisions safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable, particularly children, and cooperate with language on policy coherence at COP decisions.

We are currently also co-developing other engagement plans prior and during COP28 to draw attention to children’s human rights in the context of changing climate and ocean. If you wish to connect with the One Ocean Hub at the Climate COP, who will be represented by Mitchell Lennan, please email and