December 21, 2023



Thomas J. F. Goreau, PhD

President, Global Coral Reef Alliance


COP 28 sacrifices coral reefs, again

The 28th Conference Of Parties of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC COP28), by failing to end fossil fuels, has sentenced coral reefs to extinction from global warming, and more than 100 countries that rely on reefs as essential shore protection, fisheries, biodiversity, sand, and tourism resources to crippling economic losses.

The “agreement” that resulted will not reverse, nor even stop, global warming, nor save coral reefs from global warming, nor low islands and coasts from global sea level rise. This alleged “consensus” agreement, which requires approval of ALL countries, was falsely claimed to be “approved unanimously” by force majeure parliamentary procedure although the 39 Small Island States were not even in the room!

The Global Coral Reef Alliance calls for Coral Reef Reparations to coral reef countries from those who are causing their extinction. We call on all Small Island Developing States and coral reef countries to insist on Coral Reef Reparations at COP 29.

Coral Reef Reparations

The case for Coral Reef Reparations is based on inescapable facts:

1) Coral reefs are the most climatically threatened ecosystem,

2) Coral reefs are the most valuable ecosystem for over 100 countries,

3) they have been deliberately and knowingly destroyed for more than three decades after 1) and 2) were known.

Coral reef climate sensitivity

Coral reefs require the cleanest water, are the most vulnerable ecosystem to high temperatures, and were shown to have passed the tipping point for mass coral bleaching in the 1980s, and could tolerate no further warming (T. J. Goreau, 1991, Testimony to the National Ocean Policy Study Subcommittee of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, S. HRG. 101-1138: 30-37, US Government Printing Office, Washington DC.; T. J. F. Goreau & R. L. Hayes, 2021, Global warming triggers coral reef bleaching tipping point, Ambio) yet UNCCC failed to identify coral reefs as climatically threatened ecosystems, monitor them for temperature damage, or take effective steps to save them.

2023 was the hottest year in human history, Jamaica suffered the worst excess daily temperatures in the last year out of 175 countries, and almost all corals in the Caribbean bleached and died in 2023 In 2022 large areas of reef all across the Tropical Pacific bleached and died. The current El Niño is likely to cause devastating bleaching mortality at sites around the world, every single coral reef is imminently threatened by heat stroke.

Sixty six million years of temperature and CO2 data show that once we come to balance with TODAY’s CO2 level, temperatures will be AT LEAST 4 degrees C warmer and possibly up to 8C warmer (red vertical line, above the temperature limit for coral reefs, horizontal red line. Figure modified after The Cenozoic CO2 Proxy Integration Project Consortium, 2023, Toward a Cenozoic history of atmospheric CO2,  Science, 382:1136)! If fossil fuels continue to be dug up and burned as if there were no tomorrow, global temperatures could rise up to 14C, and sea level rise of up to 70 meters! The deadly Red Star target of the fossil fuel industry is at upper right, coral reefs need a preindustrial target shown by the good Blue Star at lower left.

Global temperatures and CO2 over the last 66 million years (after CenCOP, 2023, op. cit.). Blue vertical line marks preindustrial CO2, red vertical line marks current levels. The red horizontal line marks the upper temperature limit for today’s coral reefs, the blue star at lower left is preindustrial conditions, and the red star at upper right is where unabated fossil fuel use aims for. Unless our global warming path points to the blue star instead of the red star, coral reefs will die from further warming.

Coral reef economic importance

Even though they cover less than 0.1% of the ocean, coral reefs are by far the most valuable ecosystems in the world for the huge array of environmental services they provide to over 100 countries, including island building, sand production, shore protection, biodiversity, fisheries, tourism, etc. NEARLY 60% OF ALL GLOBAL ECONOMIC LOSSES FROM ECOSYSTEM DEGRADATION (RANGING FROM 4.3 to 20.2 TRILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR) TOOK PLACE IN CORAL REEFS IN JUST 14 YEARS FROM  1997-2011 (Costanza et al., 2014, Changes in the global value of ecosystem services, Global Environmental Change, 26:152-158).

Since even more severe coral bleaching mortality took place AFTER that date, coral reef countries are bearing the burden of at least 60% of global economic ecosystem service loss and damages, in only 0.06% of the global surface area, around a thousand times higher than the global average, making coral reef countries by far the first and worst victims of climate change!

Coral reefs and SIDS in UNCCC

The Global Coral Reef Alliance, representing grass-roots coral reef protection groups from small islands, warned delegates from the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) before UNCCC was signed in 1992 that the treaty as written was seriously flawed, could not live up to its own goals, and would not save coral reefs from global warming or low islands and coasts from global sea level rise. We told the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that unless the treaty was made scientifically sound to protect climate vulnerable ecosystems it would be a death sentence for coral reefs and a suicide pact for low lying island nations.

For 28 successive COPs fossil fuel producers have systematically trumped any global consensus to stop climate change, making obscene profits from killing coral reefs and drowning coasts, damage that has barely yet begun and will get vastly worse in the years to come. Since COP 29 will be held in yet another major petroleum exporting nation, we expect the usual last-minute trickery from OPEC+Russia and coal and gas producers to again prevent effective reduction of climate change, kill more corals, and flood more islands, unless global sanity somehow prevails. Coral reefs will be the first ecosystem driven to extinction by global climate change, so if we save coral reefs we can save all the rest, if we continue to let them die from fossil fuel pollution, many more ecosystems, species, and people, will follow.

The Global Coral Reef Alliance calls yet again for all Small Island Nations and Coral Reef Countries to demand reparations for loss and damage from the fossil fuel producers and addicts who are killing coastal marine resources We call for a global fund paid by fossil fuel producers and consumers that pays the coral reef countries for economic losses and damages from global climate change in reparations for knowing and willful destruction. These losses were estimated at 11.9 trillion dollars per year for coral reefs up to 2011 (Costanza et al., op cit.) and are higher now. We call on this to be used for a fund to generate a sustainable Blue Economy based on clean solar, wind, and ocean energy to grow back vanishing reefs and islands and store Blue Carbon using Biorock technology (see results below).

Biorock Blue Economies

Biorock® Technology for Climate Proofing Beaches, Regenerating Marine Ecosystems, Sustainable Mariculture, Blue Carbon sequestration, climate change adaptation, and producing cheaper and harder carbon-neutral or carbon-negative building materials in the sea for a sustainable Blue Economy. Side Event at the United Nations Ocean Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, June 30 2022 by Dr. Tom Goreau

Biorock Coral Arks to save species from extinction

Biorock Coral Arks are the only method known that increases coral survival from severe bleaching, and are needed in every coral country to propagate surviving corals. Please support the Global Coral Reef Alliance Biorock Coral Ark Program with local community-managed environmental management groups in tropical islands around the world. They are urgently needed everywhere corals are dying! Elkhorn corals are now recovering from full 2023 bleaching on Biorock Coral Arks in Jamaica, Saint Barthelemy, Carriacou, Curaçao, and Panama, while conventional fragmentation nurseries died from heat stroke. It is now critically urgent to identify and propagate the rare coral survivors on Biorock Coral Arks across the Caribbean. Please support GCRA’s local partners around the world to save their last corals from global warming fossil fuel-caused mass extinction using life-saving Biorock technology. GCRA is helping the Guna Indigenous people of Panama protect islands they are losing to global sea level rise, and many other coastal communities all around the world.

The Global Coral Reef Alliance was founded to seek urgent support for community-managed coral reef protection organizations in Jamaica and all tropical island nations at the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It has developed pioneering coral regeneration projects with local groups in more than 45 countries across the Caribbean, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

For more information: