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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

COP28: UNEP Launches Global Targets and Funding to Save Coral Reefs

This December 2, the United Nations Environment Program officially launched the 2030 Coral Reef Breakthrough, a milestone in global action to save the world's most threatened ecosystem, which includes the world's first targets for action on coral reefs and financial commitments from public and private leaders.

The world has lost 14% of its coral reefs since 2009 and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming of 1.5ºC means a loss of 70 to 90%, reaching 99% if the temperature reaches 2ºC.

Covering less than 1% of the ocean floor, reefs are critical to 30% of marine life. With the increasingly intense pressures of climate change, resources and actions must be accelerated to halt local and global causes of decline and scale cost-effective solutions that enable the survival and recovery of resilient coral reefs on a global scale.

The Coral Reef Breakthrough aims to secure the future of at least 125,000 km² of shallow-water tropical coral reefs with a minimum investment of US$12 billion to support the resilience of more than 500 million people around the world by 2030. The advances were developed in collaboration with the United Nations High-Level Climate Change Champions (HLCC), the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR), with support from the government of Sweden and the principality of Monaco.

“These advances will bring more granularity, accountability and transparency in achieving our objectives, in addition to existing goals, such as the NDCs and SDGs. It is a game changer, because the advances identify where greater coordination is needed and place science at the basis of action”, said Susan Gardner, director of UNEP's Ecosystems Division, at the opening of the panel, adding that the diversity of voices — Indigenous Peoples, young people and traditional communities, with their ancestral knowledge — is essential to help guide decision-making.

Letícia Carvalho, Brazilian oceanographer and head of UNEP's Marine and Freshwater Section, panel mediator, announced that the GFCR Coalition has already mobilized an initial amount of US$200 million towards the Coral Reef Breakthrough goals, coming from donors and investors, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Builders Vision, Minderoo, Foundation, Green Climate Fund, as well as the governments of France, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The launch panel was attended by Ana Paula Prates, director of Oceans and Coastal Management at the Brazilian Ministry of Environment and Climate Change; Steven Victor, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment of Palau; Lynda Tabuya, Minister of Women, Children and Social Protection of Fiji; and Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for Overseas, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom.

Opening the panel, Prates mentioned how Brazil is known for the biodiversity of its marine environment, including the largest continuous mangrove area in the north of the country and the only coral reef ecosystem in the South Atlantic.

“Corals are in the transition between Caribbean and Amazon forests, under pressure from the exploitation of fossil fuels. Due to Brazil's leadership at the intersection between climate change and oceans, we decided to create the department of oceans and coastal management in the ministry, which has worked to include the ocean in a permanent and integrated way in the national climate change policy”, said Prates.

The department is currently drafting the national coral reef conservation strategy and establishing a national reef monitoring network. As the next president of the G20, the country also joined the Coral Research and Development Accelerator Platform (Cordap). As a member of ICRI, since 2006, Brazil contributed to the preparation of the 2023 Coral Reef Breakthrough.

“We are encouraging the document to be approved at the next UN General Assembly, in Nairobi, next year. This fundraising initiative is of strong interest to us because we really need resources to work on in the future. We have been working with protection and conservation for a long time, monitoring since 2000 with Reef Check Brasil, for example, but we only recently started working on restoration issues in some projects," she added.

In his speech, Minister Steven Victor inspired other countries to follow the example of Palau, which protects 30% of its coral reefs based on national legislation created more than 20 years ago.

“The financial issue is difficult, there is a limit to what we can do, but we have help from the international community, sharing failures and successes. If we fail fast, we will learn fast. We need to act together, time is no longer on our side," he said.

In Fiji, as Linda Tabuia commented, there is the third largest continuous barrier reef in the world.

“In our country, corals are seen as the protectors of Fiji, serving as a shield against the fury of storms, anchoring food security and sustaining the lifestyle of a significant portion of our population. The resilience of coral reefs has become synonymous with the resilience of people. We appeal to private donor entities and institutions to donate, the amount is viable. This is a path not to be taken alone, as our local reefs are globally connected," she said.

Finally, Andrew Mitchell commented on the Blue Planet Fund, a £500 million program from the British government that supports developing countries in protecting the marine environment and reducing poverty, with one of the objectives being to safeguard 30% of the oceans by 2030.

“I am happy to announce that Great Britain is endorsing Coral Reef Breakthrough. Our country is the largest donor to the global fund, investing £33 million between 2021 and 2025. We also commit to doubling our international climate finance to £11.6 billion, spending at least a third of that on nature and solutions-based in nature, including mangroves and coral reefs," he said.

This story was produced as part of the 2023 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published in Portuguese by Um Só Planeta on 2 December 2023.

Banner image: An underwater shot from Brazil's coast line / Credit: Aurélia Ferreira via Unsplash.