The Urgency of Protecting Our Oceans at COP28

The UN climate talks at COP28 have begun, and one of the major issues being discussed is how to protect the oceans. Among the negotiators is Mervina Paueli, a young woman from Tuvalu, a group of low-lying Pacific islands. The oceans play a critical role in mitigating the impacts of global warming, by absorbing heat and protecting us from its full consequences. This summit could be a turning point for the oceans if it agrees to significant reductions in fossil fuel use. Mervina, as a negotiator for Tuvalu, is acutely aware of the threat her home faces. Sea levels have already risen by 0.15 meters in the past 30 years, with an average increase rate of 5mm per year. By 2050, it is estimated that the sea levels will be 20cm higher than they are today. For Tuvalu, and many other communities, their culture, history, and livelihoods depend on healthy oceans and stable sea levels. However, the oceans are strained due to climate change, pollution, and loss of habitats. The temperature of the sea is increasing, causing fish species to relocate to cooler waters, leaving local fishermen struggling to sustain their livelihoods. Despite these challenges, the oceans have been largely overlooked in previous climate talks. It was only two years ago that the oceans were mentioned in a UN climate agreement. This year, ministers from major ocean nations are coming together to discuss next steps and potential solutions, including investment in renewable tidal energy. The Dubai Oceans Declaration has already been signed by more than 100 organizations, calling for increased investment in ocean science and ocean-based action to address climate change. However, for Pacific Islanders like Mervina, the situation is urgent. Sea level rise, caused by melting glaciers, has already been set in motion and stabilizing sea surface temperatures remains uncertain. In recognition of the existential threat faced by these communities, Australia has offered climate refugee visas to Pacific Islanders. However, Mervina remains committed to her home, as she cherishes her culture and community. She plans to fight for her island home at COP28 and implore world leaders to take action to save her community and many others from the impending crisis.