• Ocean Governance & Blue Economy
  • COP28

Op-Ed: Oceans need a reinforced Africa-Europe Partnership

  • Pascal Lamy & Nancy Karigithu

As all eyes are turned on the negotiations underway at COP28, there is one particular point on the agenda to highlight. This Saturday, December 9, is COP’s designated Ocean Action Day and will be a key opportunity to emphasise the critical role of the ocean in the face of a shifting geopolitical and economic landscape and the interconnected climate and biodiversity crises. Ocean Action Day is COP’s chance to shine a light on the critical need to preserve the world’s oceans and for Africa and Europe to forge a new path forward as partners on ocean governance.

Strengthening ocean governance and the blue economy as a strategic domain for Africa-Europe cooperation would empower local communities on both continents while helping to accelerate climate mitigation and adaptation efforts and regenerate marine environments at scale. The majority of European Union and African Union Member States have coastlines, and a joint Africa Europe roadmap for an equitable blue partnership is both practical and essential to address the triple crises of climate, biodiversity and pollution.

COP28 is a moment to reflect on the unique opportunity to forge a collaborative path between Africa and Europe on ocean governance and deliver climate and biodiversity solutions.

“The summit must serve as a launching pad for a new era of collaboration on oceans.”

As we look beyond COP to 2024, more key moments are set to be pivotal for international ocean treaties and renewed political leadership in both Africa and Europe. This crucial period for shaping a global agenda on ocean governance will continue into 2025, with both the 7th AU – EU Summit and the third United Nations Ocean Conference set to take place. Both continents stand at the threshold of unprecedented collaboration opportunities.

“The ocean and the blue economy represent a strategic domain of cooperation which is not yet central to the Africa-Europe dialogue despite their immense potential. ”

Developing a shared vision on the ocean will provide a strong foundation for partnerships, exchanging lessons learned and best practices and advance a cross-continental approaches benefiting both continents. Common priorities between the European Union and African Union include reinforcing multilateralism, advancing global treaties and capacity sharing. Recent progress in international cooperation on ocean protection sets the grounds for the ratification and operationalisation of key treaties, demonstrating unity at the international level and joint leadership in sustainable ocean management.

To achieve SDG14 by 2030, it is imperative that we build new capabilities in both Africa and Europe. Establishing a cross-continental network of knowledge hubs and leveraging the best European and African resources, including the recently designated African Union’s Centres of Excellence, could significantly contribute to evidenced-based policymaking, programming, and to improved ocean literacy.

“Sharing the best available science, policies, and data across the two continents will be instrumental for addressing specific challenges, including the climate and biodiversity crises. ”

Given these milestones, it is high time to reinforce the Africa-Europe partnership. Joint projects on common interests can be identified to expand Marine Protected Areas and support locally-managed Marine Areas for both continents. This collaboration further aligns with the accelerating global movement to address the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, including the Global Biodiversity Framework and 30x30 pledges calling on countries to protect 30% of their land, ocean and freshwater by 2030. These efforts also directly impact food security, livelihoods and the well-being of marine ecosystems.

Witnessing recent African ocean leadership in spearheading the development of a regenerative blue economy is inspirational and offers a springboard of opportunities for a revised partnership with Europe. By working jointly, the Africa-Europe Ocean Partnership could be reframed at bilateral and international level to support African-led leadership and initiatives, including through consolidating the outcomes of the recent Nairobi Declaration and delivering on vital national pledges on climate and biodiversity.

“It is important to acknowledge and celebrate the progress already being made, including the first Blue Africa Summit and the Tangier Declaration. ”

The Tangier Declaration recognises the need for a permanent Africa-Europe mechanism on ocean governance, and such an instrument is already in place with the Africa-Europe Strategy Group on Ocean Governance*. This strategic group should be strengthened and expanded to foster initiatives and drive concrete action.

We recognise the significance of the Africa-Europe Strategy Group on Ocean Governance and the unique potential of this partnership for Africa and Europe alike. COP28’s Ocean Day marks the beginning of a critical period for ocean governance, and we must look to strengthen the collaborative alliance between Africa and Europe poised to shape the future of sustainable ocean governance as we look to meet critical global challenges.

*The Africa-Europe Strategy on Ocean Governance is an initiative led by the European Commission, in partnership with the African Union Commission. The initiative is implemented by the Africa-Europe Foundation.