Author: Dr B. B. Cael, Principal Scientist at NOC and member of NOC’s COP28 delegation
Dr B. B. Cael led a fascinating session at the COP28 Ocean Pavilion discussing ‘Plankton and Climate Change: Indicators, Stressors and Carbon Storage’. Check out Cael’s recent study that showed the impact of climate change on plankton ecosystems, causing a change in the the colour of the ocean over the last 20 years: https://noc.ac.uk/news/new-study-shows-effect-climate-change-ocean-colo….
What an experience COP28 has been! As we’re here on our final full day, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned that I will take away from here. Three main things come to mind:
1. “Climate change” is even bigger and more multidimensional than you think
Like a lot of people, I spend a lot of time talking about how big, complex, and far-reaching the issue of climate change is. We know it affects the whole world and all of its people and life. We know it has many, many facets. We know it is a, if not the, grand challenge of the 21st century.
But it’s another thing entirely to see the scale of all the things that people collectively refer to as climate change, manifest as the size of COP28. The event is huge. Like, huge. It takes fifteen minutes for me to walk – and I walk fast – from the entrance to the building where the Ocean Pavilion is located. (Yes, we’re getting a lot of steps in.) It is hard to fathom, even after being here for a few days. There are portions devoted to gender, food, education, development, risk, finance, energy, technology, governance, accountability, health, peace, transportation, trade, many many different countries… The list keeps going, and I didn’t even mention the actual climate! I’ve never felt so much like the ocean is a drop in a bucket. Of course, I think many of us are surprised at how much “Nature” is not front-and-centre, or anything close to it, but the scale of this event really does underscore how truly global and multidimensional climate change is. It’s a humbling thing, and important to keep in mind.
2. Get out of your bubble
In science, we like to talk up “interdisciplinary” research. Sometimes, that’s just talk, but especially in systems sciences like oceanography, we do do a lot of genuinely interdisciplinary work, combining for example physics, chemistry, and biology. One could argue though that even the “interdisciplinarity” of this work is partial – oceanography is still a single discipline, it just borrows from other disciplines and has corresponding sub-disciplines. Sometimes we might get really interdisciplinary and combine results from entirely different fields of science, such as using mathematical models from statistical mechanics (a branch of science mostly concerned with the behaviour of large numbers of of atoms) to describe the geometry of melt ponds in the Arctic. Even when we do this, though, even as we pat ourselves on the back for bringing disparate things together, we’re still combining things within science. COP28 is a great reminder of the fact that science itself is just one of many disciplines involved when it comes to climate change. Here, academics talk to businesspeople, who talk to politicians, who talk to lawyers, who talk to activists… or at least we all try to talk to each other! And this dialogue makes it all the more apparent how important it is to be doing work that is truly interdisciplinary if we really want to address climate change as best we can as a society.
3. Marine Carbon Dioxide Removal (mCDR) is really taking off
A more ocean-specific take-home message is that there is a lot of interest, energy, and activity in mCDR right now. mCDR was unquestionably the dominant conversation within the Ocean Pavilion at COP28. There were sessions on plankton, blue carbon, ocean health, ocean observing, and many other such topics, but there was no question that mCDR overshadowed everything else by far. There is clearly a rapid proliferation of technologies, start-ups, and research programs, as well as challenges, concerns, and potential impacts. The encouraging thing is that the people involved appear to be paying attention to take-home message #2 above. For instance, the scientists are listening to the interests and needs of businesspeople and regulators; the entrepreneurs are listening to the concerns and requirements of scientists and regulators; and the regulators are listening to the needs and wishes of scientists and businesspeople. This of course could be a biased sample, since we are at COP28 after all, but COP28 is certainly also facilitating this dialogue, very productively. But like Trotsky said about war, whether you are enthusiastic or concerned about mCDR, mCDR is interested in you.
It’s been a lot to take in indeed, and a blast! Now, off to make the most of the last 24h before we fly back home!