A breakthrough for oceans: Scaling Nature-based solutions for ocean-based climate policy at COP28

By Kristina Rodriguez, Oceans & Coastal Zone Fellow | December 9, 2023

The Ocean, functioning as a pivotal component of the global climate system, also serves as a reservoir of untapped nature-based solutions and poses as a critical lever in the fight against climate change. COP28 presented a unique opportunity for stakeholders from diverse sectors to come together and scale ready-to-implement solutions identified under the Ocean Breakthroughs, across five ocean-based sectors that can contribute up to 18% of the emission reductions needed in 2030, and up to 35% in 2050, to keep to a 1.5 degree trajectory. The momentum for implementing ocean-based policy frameworks at COP28 has become undeniable, which will have a profound impact on the ocean and the people who depend on these ecosystems. Delivering on these solutions will require unprecedented levels of action, cooperation and collaboration.

With over 70% of new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions incorporating at least one ocean-based climate measure related to blue carbon coastal wetland ecosystems conservation for climate adaptation and mitigation, it’s clear the urgent need for substantial investment and innovative policy instruments to secure the future of  ocean & coastal ecosystems by 2030 demands immediate attention.

This is just the beginning, we must rapidly scale up the deployment of offshore wind, ensure sustainable coastal tourism, increase the protection and restoration of marine ecosystems, encourage sustainable fisheries, and decarbonize shipping work. The ocean community, united under the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action on Ocean & Coastal Zones, came together to implement a set of ocean pathways to drive the transition towards a net zero world, and further anchor the ocean in climate and biodiversity negotiations. These science-based pathways were utilized throughout COP28 as innovative policy frameworks in response to the Global Stocktake, and supported multilateral efforts, such as of the Paris Agreement, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals, and contribute to the achievement of existing global targets, including the “30×30”. At COP28, it became clear the effective deployment of the Ocean Breakthroughs relies on the cumulative action and close collaboration of stakeholders across sectors, a cross-cutting approach and key enablers (i.e., Science, Finance, Governance, and Inclusivity) to define objectives and quantifiable targets.

A Breakthrough for mangroves: Mobilizing capital and policy at scale for crucial coastal ecosystems

Mangrove ecosystems are critical coastal wetlands and proven Nature-based Solutions for both climate adaptation and mitigation. Mangroves sequester in many cases four times as much atmospheric carbon as rainforests and are known for fostering incredible biodiversity, enhancing coastal resilience, and supporting local livelihoods. Their ability to provide food, extreme weather protection, and livelihoods, all while harboring incredible biodiversity, enhancing coastal resilience, and acting as immense carbon sinks make mangrove protection and restoration a uniquely effective strategy to tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss simultaneously.

Despite their immense value, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems is drastically underfunded compared to the benefits they bring. Only ~1% of climate finance is channeled to marine and coastal ecosystems, which results in a lack of effective conservation and restorations efforts. There is growing political momentum to realize these returns.

At COP28  the Mangrove Alliance for Climate, founded by Indonesia and the UAE and launched at COP27, convening government partners for capacity-building and best-practice-sharing, in partnership with the Global Mangrove Alliance and the High Level Climate Champions, hosted A Breakthrough Moment for Mangroves on Nature Land Use and Ocean Day. This government and non-state actor-led event brought together the major partnerships and initiatives behind the Mangrove Breakthrough – the global target to restore and protect 15 million hectares of mangroves and halt mangrove destruction by 2030.

Leveraging mangroves’ unique role in accelerating the delivery of both the Paris Agreement and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, this event featured new and impactful policies, technologies, and investments from a wide range of public and private leaders that will support mangroves adaptation, mitigation, health, and development outcomes. We saw the private sector unite to provide innovative market-based solutions around developing actionable recommendations for scaling mangrove-positive business models and developing innovative financial instruments to accelerate investment in mangroves.

COP28 made it clear the Ocean needs to be centered at the heart of humanity’s solutions, securing a resilient, nature-positive, and net-zero future.  We must raise global ambitions for ocean & coastal ecosystems by unlocking public, private and philanthropic finance at scale and implementing robust policy mechanisms to address the ongoing crisis of ocean habitat & coastal ecosystem degradation and loss, which has far-reaching implications for climate, nature, and people.

December 9th, the designated Oceans Day, became dedicated to moving beyond recommendations and identifying practical steps towards implementing the Ocean Breakthroughs. With the joint efforts of the ocean community, COP28 truly provided an unprecedented global “ocean moment” to accelerate action on the precious and powerful Ocean & marine ecosystems. To drive collective action, COP28 brought together a diverse array of stakeholders, including government representatives, civil society organizations, businesses, entrepreneurs, and philanthropy and finance leaders, to create a platform for these stakeholders to voice their support, role and commitment to unlocking large-scale action for ocean and coastal ecosystem conservation and restoration.


A community’s fight for resilience: Saving Sri Lanka’s vulnerable marine ecosystems

As part of a new series to support the Ocean Breakthroughs, the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions and the Edges of Earth expedition explore how a community is adapting to and combating the impacts of climate change in the capital of Sri Lanka. The Edges of Earth team had the opportunity to spend two weeks living alongside Hafsa Jamel (pictured), learning about their work supporting local nature-based solutions that aim to mitigate climate challenges in their home country.


A global coalition forging coral reef resilience

In April 2024, NOAA and ICRI scientists confirmed the fourth global coral bleaching event, highlighting the escalating impacts of climate change on coral reefs. This has spurred initiatives like the Coral Reef Breakthrough and the Global Fund for Coral Reefs to enhance protection, double effective conservation areas, and mobilize significant funding for restoration efforts.