Africa-Europe Cooperation and

Ocean Governance

Strengthening Africa-Europe Cooperation on the Climate-Biodiversity-Ocean Nexus

CORDIO contributed a climate-biodiversity science perspective in the High-level Dialogue on Blue Economy and Oceans Governance as part of the Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 28-30 April 2023. This statement was contributed by Dr. David Obura, CORDIO East Africa, at the High-level Dialogue on Blue Economy and Oceans Governance sponsored by the Africa Europe Foundation on Friday, 28 April 2023 at the Radisson Blu Upper Hill, Nairobi. The event was co-hosted by the African Union Commission and European Union.

What are key biodiversity and climate change challenges in developing Africa’s sustainable and inclusive blue economy?

The general context for biodiversity and climate change is well synthesized in the IPCC-IPBES workshop report released in 2021, the synthesis of which was published in Science magazine on Friday 21 April 2023, and here I interpret it for Africa’s oceans and a sustainable blue economy.

Science is unequivocal on both crises, identifying where we must act – we are on a slide of rapid declines and we are not yet ‘halting and reversing’ these, to use the biodiversity language. And the root causes are over-extraction, overproduction, overconsumption and waste.

We know a few things about these root causes:

  1. First, the modern economy’s addiction to growth has historical roots going back 300-400 years for biodiversity extraction and impacts, and 50-100 years in fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.
  2. Second, we are not aĺl equal. The disproportionate impact of high income producers/consumers is clear, magnified through wealth accumulation and energy use
  3. These are as true for the ocean as on land.

What are the top priorities for climate and biodiversity, in relation to Africa-Europe cooperation?

First, we must halt and reverse drivers of decline, the root causes. This means wealthier countries and people, must reduce their consumption. The onus on change here does rest on Europe, and wealthier populations within Africa. This reduction enables two things:

  • It returns us within local, regional and planetary boundaries
  • AND it enables transfer of a part of this excess consumption to those with less than a fair share.
  • Importantly, success on reducing drivers would also provide the fastest and the first positive and reinforcing signs of the profound transformations needed to motivate and precipitate further action.
Photo by Africa-Europe Foundation

Now on more tangible biodiversity and climate solutions:

The flow of biological resources must be equalized, prioritizing the people that need the nutrition and benefits most, and halting actions that destroy the resource base. The Guardian newspaper, for example, reports on continued European Union (EU) influence driving overfishing of Indian Ocean tuna by EU vessels, blocking a decision already taken by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. An Africa-Europe partnership must attack such perverse actions that undermine cooperation and funding actions, in addition to Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, as called for by the new biodiversity targets.

On biodiversity protection and conservation, such as on biodiversity target 3, or the “30×30” target, how area and management are expanded on every continent must be negotiated on the basis of differentiated responsibilities and subject to local decision-making and agency, a key theme increasingly recognized and repeated. Yes, greater protection of nature is absolutely needed – but evidence shows this must be predominantly from the wealthy, not the disadvantaged.

On climate actions, the potential of nature or ecosystem based solutions is foundational to the biodiversity-climate nexus. For Africa in particular, we must realize that applied using best practices these are the real silver, no, platinum bullets. A nature-based solution for one objective, done right, can be a solution for many more – for example protected or restored mangroves sequester carbon, bring in finance, protect the coastline, build social capital, grow fish stocks, restore biodiversity, earn tourism dollars and much more. Here again, local agency, contextualization and decision-making are essential.

On technological fixes for climate, the New York Times Opinion on 18 April 2023 by Nigerian scientist Dr. Chukwumerije Okereke is clear about this – Africa cannot be a test-bed for technological fig-leafs for those not willing to transform and reduce their carbon footprint at home. These global one-size-fits-all approaches are anti-thetical to the local focus many are trying to grow.

Finally, on finance for biodiversity and climate solutions. This could be reframed, and magnified by orders of magnitude, as re-investment in biodiversity and people, capacities and partnerships, on equitable terms. We should think of it as re-investment to balance the biodiversity and climate debts that have accrued over decades and centuries.


So finishing with summarizing for the 3 questions posed for this session:

  1. Africa-Europe political, technical and research cooperation should focus on eliminating drivers of decline from ocean economy expansion – for both African AND European blue economy sectors. A key requirement is to address disparities in blue economy rights, access, benefits and impacts.
  2. On pockets of innovation – the blue economy must address biodiversity and climate together, with biodiversity first, because as found by the IPCC-IPBES report – many climate actions are detrimental to biodiversity, but most biodiversity actions are good for climate.
  3. And finally on sustainable development goal interactions, this brief statement shows clearly that it’s not just about goals 13 (on climate) and 14 (on oceans), but all the other goals too. The narrative laid out above also touches on:
        • wellbeing – so goals 1 (no poverty), 2 (food security) and 3 (health);
        • equity – goals 5 (gender) and 10 (equality);
        • sustainable economies – goals 8 (jobs, economy) and 12 (sustainable production and consumption);
        • energy (goal 7) and innovation (goal 9);
        • and knowledge (goal 4), justice (goal 16) and partnership and resources (goal 17).

Sustainable and inclusive blue economy solutions will be all about addressing complex nexus (nexus) challenges across all scales – addressing biodiversity, climate, food, water, health and much much more. These can deliver on an equitable vision and partnership into the future – but must be pursued with honest intent, full resources and just implementation – among, and within, countries.

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