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Whales, trees and butterflies – how WDC is giving a voice to the ocean at COP26

Ed Goodall, Green Whale Project manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, writes from COP26 on the pivotal role ocean recovery can play in tackling the climate crisis.

November 2021

I’m in Glasgow representing WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation at COP26, the UN’s 26th climate conference. This is the first time WDC has attended one of these and it’s because we have something important to say - we desperately need the world to wake up and listen to the ocean, for without protecting it, we won’t emerge from the climate and biodiversity crises.

It’s set to be a fairly intense couple of weeks so it felt like a good time to reflect on how I ended up here.

My first memory of helping nature was when I was around six years old clearing a small woodland glade of rubbish and fly-tipped waste with the Beaver Scouts. At the end of the day, the sun dappled through the hazel coppice and a butterfly landed on my hand. In my young mind I felt it was thanking me. I often credit that experience, and that individual butterfly, for shaping my whole life.

From trees to seas
So, I grew up and went off to university and went on to work in woodlands, managing projects that restore native biodiversity and make habitats more resilient to our changing world. Then I heard about whales and the fascinating role they can play in helping us restore the ocean, which is essential in tackling the climate crisis. So from the trees to the seas, here I am now at WDC.

Long have we known of the benefits of increasing the number of trees across the planet for improving our climate and wildlife. Trees are part of the solution to the twin climate and biodiversity crises, but the potential of the ocean is staggering and largely untapped.

Humans have cut down trees for thousands of years. Humans have also caught fish for thousands of years. This used to be done in balance; humans using only what they needed. Since the industrial revolution however, this has become grossly unsustainable and nature is rapidly reaching a tipping point, from which we will be unable to recover.

Here in the UK, we take so much that we would need nearly another two planet Earths for the rest of nature to keep up with our way of life. We need to move to a way of thinking and a world system where we do not look to take, we look to see what nature can give us.

Restoring balance
The ocean covers over 70% of the planet’s surface and contains 99% of the liveable space. It is bursting with biodiversity. We need to give the ocean the attention and care it needs, just like in recent years, we have been caring more for trees and woods, restoring them to their natural richness. It’s hard for many people to care about a big blue mass of nondescript water, despite it being essential to life as we know it - and that is where whales and dolphins come in.

Whales and dolphins are our ocean cousins. Much like humans they are intelligent, they solve problems, live in family groups, suckle their young and have complex languages. Whales and dolphins also help to keep the ocean healthy just by doing what they do - like trees do on land. So just as we need more trees, we need to manage the ocean much more sensitively and allow whales and dolphins to recover their populations and restore balance to them.

At the UN climate conference my colleagues and I will be pushing the case for whales, why it’s important to consider them in climate mitigation planning and what we want to see countries doing in the immediate future.

This is what we’re asking governments to do:

1. Restore the ocean as if our lives depend on it. Because they do. By committing to protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030
2. Recognise whales as our climate allies. 
By supporting the recovery of whale populations to pre-whaling levels to fight the climate crisis
3. Invest in whales.
 By drastically increasing funding for ocean-based solutions to climate breakdown. As highlighted in the Deloitte, MCS and WDC policy paper A Drop in the Ocean, Billions of dollars are designated for addressing climate change, yet less than 3% of these funds are allocated to nature-based solutions. And only 1% to the ocean. That needs to change ... fast
4. Put people at the heart of ocean recovery.
 By ensuring conservation is embedded in and led by coastal communities
5. Protect every whale
- for their sake and ours. By changing policies to prevent the killing or harm of whales, keeping them safe as an 'international public good' and holding to account people who harm them

You can help us by:
1. Becoming a Climate Giant Hero
2. Talking to your employer about becoming a Climate Giant Project partner.

We’ve treated our planet poorly for far too long. We’ve cut down the trees, drained the wetlands, burned the moors and used the ocean as a dumping ground.

So, remembering that butterfly that landed on my finger nearly 30 years ago, nature shapes our whole lives, and we need to restore balance and harmony for humans to survive. That will return if we give it a chance. Restoring whale populations will go a long way to restoring our ocean, so let’s give them and us a fighting chance at COP26 and get their message out there.

Ed Goodall is Green Whale Project manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation

Follow @edgoodall@whalesorg 

A film on these issues can be watched here

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.