Coastal Resilience Earth Network: Harnessing Columbia’s resources to advance COP28 Breakthroughs

Editor's note:

Johanna Lovecchio, Isatis Cintron, Arpana Giritharan

February 19, 2024

The outcome of the  2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP28,  held from 30 November until 12 December 2023, left many unsatisfied. While COP28 was the first COP where Parties agreed to transition away from fossil fuels, there were several loopholes. As outlined in the Alliance for Small Island States (AOSIS) statement, the change is seen by many as incremental and not transformative. This also echoes other constituencies of SIDS, including CARICOM, where the ocean and the climate justice imperative of SIDS in the Caribbean presented a unified front in advance of the COP.  

While many were unsatisfied as not all expectations were met, the outcomes of COP28 also provided an unprecedented recognition of the role of the ocean in climate action and the need to strengthen action. 

Breakthroughs and International Commitments 

During the run-up to the summit, 130 representatives signed up for the Dubai Ocean Declaration. In addition to operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund and including text on “transitioning away from fossil fuels”, the COP convened ocean leaders from around the world. 

Currently, 70 percent of new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions incorporate at least one ocean-based climate measure.

Non-state actors committed to The Ocean Breakthroughs across five key ocean-related sectors. These include:

  • Marine conservation: By 2030, investments of at least $72 billion secure the integrity of ocean ecosystems by protecting, restoring, and conserving at least 30% of the ocean for the benefit of people, climate, and nature.
  • Shipping: By 2030, zero-emission fuels make up 5% of international shipping’s energy demand. 450,000 seafarers need to be retrained and upskilled. At least 30% of global trade needs to move through climate-adapting ports.
  • Ocean renewable energy: By 2030, install at least 380 GW of offshore capacity while establishing targets and enabling measures for net-positive biodiversity outcomes and advocate for mobilizing $10bn in concessional finance for developing economies to reach that goal.
  • Aquatic food: By 2030, provide at least $4bn per year to support resilient aquatic food systems that will contribute to healthy, regenerative ecosystems, and sustain the food and nutrition security for three billion people.
  • Coastal tourism

The UN High Seas Treaty, which has 84 signatories, gained traction and global attention is now shifting towards its ratification. The High Seas Treaty was signed by Vanuatu, and was an important signal of small island states playing a key role in securing the 60 ratifications required to enforce the Treaty.

The Biden-Harris Administration unveiled the Ocean Justice Strategy which was the first time environmental justice and equity principles have been incorporated to ensure long-term, sustainable benefits for people, communities and the environment. Its three main goals are to Embed Ocean Justice in Federal Activities; Develop a Diverse, Equitable, Inclusive, and Accessible Federal Ocean Workforce; and Enhance Ocean Justice Through Education, Data, and Knowledge.

Headways in a Global Stocktake 

Oceans made important headway in the first-ever Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement, where countries make an in-depth analysis of collective progress towards Paris Agreement goals. Climate justice and oceans, along with all ecosystems and protection of biodiversity, were recognized as important to address climate change.  The negotiations involved over 85,000 representatives from 198 Parties and saw the adoption of the first Global Stocktake outcome, which recognized some broad science-based and ecosystem-based approaches : 

  • “Marine ecosystems act as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gasses and by conserving biodiversity” (Article 33)
  • “Invites Parties to preserve and restore oceans and coastal ecosystems and scale up, as appropriate, ocean-based mitigation action”(Article 35)
  • “Notes that ecosystem-based approaches, including ocean-based adaptation and resilience measures, as well as in mountain regions, can reduce a range of climate change risks and provide multiple co-benefits” (Article 56) 
  • “Welcomes the outcomes of and the informal summary report on the 2023 ocean and climate change dialogue and encourages the further strengthening of ocean-based action, as appropriate” (Art. 180) 

Deep and Wide Shortcomings 

Despite the COP28 headways, there remains no mention of inclusive and participatory ocean governance with structures where perspectives and leadership of communities, indigenous people, youth, and women in all their diversities are considered. Ocean-related conversations about food, livelihoods, sovereignty, and deep sea mining and minerals for extraction/mitigation also continue to be deeply underfunded and fraught in policy spheres. At the COP, there was notable frustration over the lack of quantitative and qualitative targets and commitments related to climate adaptation and persistent gaps in adaptation and resilience finance (Devex, 2023). 

Finally, while there was a commitment to ‘phase down’ fossil fuels, ocean warming is on track to exponentially increase in thermal temperature, which is leading to significant economic losses due to sea level rise, coastal storms, ecosystem damage, and loss of livelihoods and foodways. It is also critically important as well as recent studies showing the growing risk of ocean current collapse. There also remains no clear agreement on critical issues related to the ocean and energy transition, such as the use of new technologies for direct carbon capture or deep-sea mining. 

Mobilization of Capital and Partnerships

At COP28, the first-ever Ocean Pavilion included over 70 events, bringing awareness and dialogue to global research, practice, and projects. In spaces like this, announcements were made. The COP saw a broad range of commitments to mobilize multilateral, private, and philanthropic capital towards oceans and the critical climate-focused projects that are needed for mitigation and adaptation: 

  • $186.6 million of new financing was announced for nature and climate-focused projects on Nature, Land Use, and Oceans Day.
  • The Ocean Resilience and Climate Alliance (ORCA), a philanthropic initiative, seeks to provide over $250 million in grants over four years to fund ocean-climate solutions across mitigation, sequestration, adaptation, and resilience.
  • The Global Mangrove Alliance and the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions (HLCs), in partnership with Systemic launched the financial roadmap for mangrove protection and restoration which outlines a pragmatic approach to channel financial flows towards mangrove conservation
  • The Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR) Coalition announced the mobilization of more than $200 million as an initial direct investment toward the newly established Coral Reef Breakthrough targets
  • An additional 40 companies committed to a Sustainable Oceans Plan 
  • The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) launched One Caribbean, a regional program aiming to promote the sustainable development of the Caribbean with a sharpened focus on high-impact initiatives

Columbia building momentum from COP28 

Columbia University's Coastal Resilience Earth Network is setting a new standard for engaging with the outcomes of COP28, focusing on actionable momentum and robust community engagement. The introduction of Coastal Clinics is a pioneering approach, allowing communities to present their challenges and engage actively with Columbia's resources and expertise, further emphasizing the university's commitment to leading by example in climate action and resilience planning. This initiative is designed to not only address immediate coastal resilience challenges but also to foster long-term, sustainable solutions through collaborative research and strategic partnerships. This approach ensures that the momentum from COP28 is not only maintained but accelerated, driving forward innovative solutions and building a more resilient future.

The Coastal Resilience Network convenes Columbia University affiliates to foster connections that can reduce risk, rebuild ecosystems, and foster culture at the water’s edge. Exchange on the latest thinking, knowledge, and dilemmas related to a topic as well as surface endeavors across the group

  1. Build capacity for interdisciplinary collaboration around coastlines
  2. Pilot best practices for practical action, and long-term relationship between coastal communities and Columbia
  3. Inform the broad Climate School Strategy, Action Collaboratives, and partnerships

For more information, or if you are working on ocean-, coastal-, or island-related topics and would like to engage with the Coastal Resilience Earth Network, please contact network co-directors: 

Isatis Cintron-Rodriguez, Climate Justice Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Co-Director Coastal Resilience Earth Network  - [email protected]

Johanna Lovecchio, Director of Program Design for Climate Action, Co-Director Coastal Resilience Earth Network - [email protected]

Kate Orff, Faculty Director of the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes; Associate Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Co-Director Coastal Resilience Earth Network - [email protected]