People and Community Science and Technology

What I am watching for at COP28

Michael Berkowitz, who heads up the University’s Climate Resilience Academy, is in Dubai for the United Nation’s 28th Conference of the Parties, the climate summit commonly referred to as COP28. Here’s what’s important to him.
COP 28

Activists participate in a demonstration for loss and damage at the COP28 U.N. climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on Dec. 4. Photo: The Associated Press

The stakes couldn’t be higher for multilateral action on climate as we are wrapping up—by far—the hottest year on record. 

The annual Conference of the Parties—this year the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28—is the place where national governments finalize negotiations and commit to action to slow global warming. Will a large, multilateral gathering like COP28 lead to decisive action? 

Historic precedence suggests that it will not. 

Nations committed to actions to keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius at COP21 in Paris, but analysis of the global climate indicates those commitments aren’t being met. 

But that doesn’t mean that the annual COPs aren’t useful. As Mark Tercek (the former executive director of the Nature Conservancy) said: “There are two functions of conferences like this—one for national-level negotiation and the other as a trade fair for climate professionals, activists, government bureaucrats, and business leaders. It’s an efficient way to meet colleagues from around the world to hatch partnerships and spur innovation and action.”

Related story: Students, faculty at UN climate talks


We need decisive action to drastically reduce greenhouse gasses—and that needs to be the highest priority for all of us—but we also need climate adaption and resilience. We need efforts to reduce impacts of climate shocks and stresses and to plan for a just and equitable transition to greener economies. That happens largely at the local level, albeit with national and international support.

Accordingly, I am focused on efforts to build resilience and subnational action. I have been connecting with programmatic and funding partners who can benefit from and elevate the amazing research and scholarship at the University of Miami, and I will be listening for “demand signals” from practitioners indicating where innovation is needed by those working on climate resilience in communities around the world.

Here are four specific themes I am looking for at this year’s COP28:

1. New partnerships and resources for funding projects and action on the ground in communities

Even if we were to drastically reduce emissions today, communities would still need massive adaptation and resilience. There are significant stockpiles of development finance—national government and private sector capital available for “bankable” projects, but the communities that need it most have trouble accessing it. I am particularly interested in commitments and programming available to help promising projects in the neediest communities access the implementation capital. And I want to further understand what the key hurdles are so University of Miami researchers and academics can work to help communities overcome them. I expect there will be several significant announcements aimed at closing this gap.

2. An increased focus on the nexus between climate and health

This is a critical issue and one where the University of Miami is a recognized leader. From new vector-borne diseases to increased climate sensitive particulates to heat stress to a range of poor mental-health outcomes there are myriad areas where climate change and health intersect. Thankfully, it is also an area that is getting more attention nationally and globally. This year, for the first time, the climate and health nexus got a day-long ministerial session on Dec 2, where delegates signed a declaration and committed $777 million to study and fight infectious diseases influenced by climate change.

3. Attention on climate refugees, displacement, and justice

Coming from Miami, it should be unsurprising that I am interested in how climate change drives migration and displacement. Although we still need more research to disaggregate the reasons people leave their home countries, it stands to reason that as regions warm and weather shocks batter vulnerable communities, climate migration will increase. This trend will require multilateral action.

4. Loss and damage

Loss and damage refers to compensation from industrialized countries to developing ones for climate-related damage. Last year’s COP meeting created the framework for industrialized countries to pay billions of dollars into a loss and damage fund. This year, at COP28, the countries have the first steps to operationalize and capitalize that fund. That money could, and should, be used to help build resilience. This year delegates revisited that issue and on the first day of the conference, several countries committed to the first tranche of funding worth $425 million. This was early good news and an important step in helping protect the most vulnerable communities around the world.  

 Michael Berkowitz, the founding executive director of the University of Miami’s Climate Resilience Academy, founded and built the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities network. He is among a number of students and faculty members attending the two-week climate summit.