20 Sep 2023
by Professor Ralph Rayner

Oceans of Knowledge 2023 - Beyond Net Zero: The Role of the Ocean in Climate Repair

Professor Ralph Rayner, FIMarEST, co-chair of the IMarEST Operational Oceanography Special Interest Group looks forward to the forthcoming Beyond Net Zero: The role of the ocean in climate repair conference taking place on 18 October at the Institute of Physics, London.  

For this year’s Oceans of Knowledge conference, the focus is on the role of the ocean in climate repair.  This theme builds on the last conference in 2021, which also dealt with challenges at the ocean-climate nexus. 

As greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise, we have reached a crisis point for which there is no single solution. Stabilising and then reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an essential part of the solution, but that alone will not be enough. We must also look beyond net zero, to options for removing excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and ensuring their long-term sequestration.  Restoration of natural systems and engineered methods of removal have the potential to make important contributions to this goal. They represent the only way to move beyond net zero in human timescales.  Ocean-based methods could play a vital role. 

The only way we will constrain global warming to a level that does not pose enormous risks to society is by using all the tools available for managing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. 

There is a moral hazard concerning whether adopting nature-based and geoengineered means of carbon dioxide removal gives license to continue supplying and burning fossil fuels. Ensuring they do not give such license is a political and regulatory challenge.  At the Beyond Net Zero: The role of the ocean in climate repair conference we want to put aside this legitimate concern and concentrate on giving those attending an opportunity to better understand the role ocean based carbon dioxide removal might play in our response to the climate challenge.  We want delegates to leave the conference with an understanding of what we need to know in order to best evaluate the potential of different approaches, leading to informed decisions about their development, testing, scaling and regulation. 

The conference will bring together those concerned with monitoring, reporting and verifying marine carbon dioxide removal with those who are developing methods of removal. I am pleased that the conference organising committee have been able to assemble leading speakers on all of these topics and more.  

Unless we rapidly evaluate the options for carbon dioxide removal, it will not be possible to consider scaling them to the point where they can make a difference quickly enough. It took the offshore oil and gas industry more than thirty years to develop the capacity to extract large quantities of oil and gas from below the ocean – we cannot afford to wait this long to be able to meet the challenge of removing the greenhouse gases which are a consequence of their combustion. 

At the very least we must start doing the experiments to evaluate which techniques work best and pose least environmental risk, what we would need to do to scale them and to monitor, regulate and verify their use. 

The conference is purposefully a collaborative effort between a diverse group of partners and supporters. Climate change is a societal challenge that is so big and so pressing that it transcends the purview of a single organisation. We cannot afford to treat it parochially, either nationally or organisationally. To succeed in the delivery of solutions to this existential challenge demands a collective endeavour. 

Please join us and sign up for this important conference here