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COP28: The Cambridge Centre for Resilience looks back

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By Elizabeth Carriere

· 8 min read

CRSD participation at COP28 demonstrated how innovative system-based methods can catalyse changes in global funding and leadership to better resource, steer and finance climate change solutions.

COP 28: A Qualified Success? 

Opinion is divided as to whether COP28 was a success. While it did not achieve its more ambitious goals, such as a hoped-for resolution to phase out fossil fuels, it did reach an historic all party agreement to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems,  pass a resolution for a compensatory loss and damage fund, agreed a goal to stop deforestation by 2030, and to conduct Global Stock Take of mid-term progress toward the Paris Agreement achievements.  

There was also strong pressure to radically change the international finance system for addressing climate change: it was acknowledged that the current system is not fit for the purposes of dealing with the threats and consequences of climate change, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable countries. 

Within this atmosphere of challenge and solution-seeking, entrenchment around current practices and structures was also evident. Many delegates - especially from countries in the Global South who experience the greatest threats from, and who are the smallest contributors to, climate change - called for climate justice in the form of compensation, debt forgiveness, new modes of financing and a stronger voice in decisions by powerful international financial institutions. As preparations begin for COP 29 later this year, it remains to be seen if, how and to what extent these calls will be answered with concrete action and change. 

While problems have been well articulated, the challenge remains to implement practical action. Solutions are needed that can nudge changes in systemic configurations of global power, wealth distribution and resource exploitation that shape historic and present access to the finance and resources so desperately needed to combat climate change and the inequities that perpetrate it. 

This challenge was directly taken up by CRSD. At COP28 CRSD introduced several innovative models for action in the areas of access to finance for small states particularly affected by climate change, galvanising change in food systems through empowering leaders in the Near East and North Africa region, and valuing the contributions of young people to sustainability.

The Cambridge University Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development (CSRD) is an international centre that advances transdisciplinary action-research in social science. The Centre catalyses new workable approaches to some of the world’s most intractable problems, using systems thinking to help transform international, national and community institutions and practices.

Part of the Solution: CSRD Contributions at COP28

Following is a synopsis of four significant CRSD methodologies it presented at COP28 that are already making a difference in climate finance systems, collaborative analysis and policy making, and measuring youth contributions to climate resilience and sustainable development.

  1. The COMPASS (Common Pool Asset Structuring System) financing model is a new approach for small states (especially Small Island Developing States - SIDS) to access climate finance and investment.

CRSD, partnering with the Commonwealth Secretariat, introduced the COMPASS methodology through targeted sessions - engaging experts, policymakers and delegates in discussions about this innovative financing approach. These sessions raised awareness among global leaders, and encouraged policy reforms for climate financing in vulnerable regions. 

The COMPASS Model was developed by CRSD in association with the Commonwealth Secretariat as a collaborative governance approach specifically responding to the situation of SIDS. Such states generally have small economies that have been particularly impacted by the economic effects of the pandemic, high levels of debt, and disproportionate exposure to climate change impact. COMPASS offers a unique approach that facilitates SIDS to jointly develop and market climate-related projects, based on their self-identified investable assets. Through the COMPASS approach, individual projects are combined into investible portfolios, maximising their impact and attracting financing.  

This new financing model has the potential to address and circumvent many of the problems small states face in accessing climate finance, by bridging research, governance, and practical action. Its focus on collaboration, capacity-building, and project bundling enhances scale and reduces risk. It is emerging as a sought-after strategy for effective climate finance strategies, particularly for small states. For example, the COMPASS model has now been written into the Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting Statement. Next steps are engaging financial institutions and investors to consider funding structures and options.

2. CRSD also introduced the Cam Youth Index at COP28, a joint initiative with the Commonwealth Youth Network. This is an innovative data index that measures the potential contributions of young people to sustainable development in their respective countries. The presentation garnered considerable interest in using the tool to analyse the substantial contributions of youth resilience to sustainable development. 

Specifically, the Index measures youth resilience in the face of climate change and development challenges. It focuses on the well-being, empowerment and capacity of young people - as shapers of sustainable futures - to address climate-related issues.

The Cam Youth Index is a significant CRSD initiative. It is a culmination of over two years of action-research, engaging 5,000 young people and accumulating over 15,500 expert hours. It focuses on youth-centric sustainable financing, and has already been applied to scaling up seaweed production initiatives in Jamaica. 

By quantifying and analysing young peoples’ untapped assets, and providing a basis for analysing unintended consequences and impacts, the Index can be a powerful tool in identifying and attracting sustainable financing for critical projects. With its focus on youth resilience, the Cam Youth Index offers an analytic pathway to enhancing young peoples’ agency in driving positive change, advocating for climate action, and contributing to sustainable development.  

3. At COP28, the CRSD attracted considerable interest in their Cambridge Policy Boot Camp (CPBC) methodology, an agile approach designed to swiftly identify and document potential solutions for complex policy problems. 

CRSD created the Boot Camp method to quickly and collaboratively generate policy solutions, identify untapped assets, and predict possible barriers to policy success. By integrating multiple perspectives from various stakeholders, CPBCs provide practical direction for complex decisions and promote resilient solutions within a given context and set of resources.

To demonstrate the method, CRSD led a 30 minute “Sprint” version of the CPBC. Despite its brevity, Sprint CPBC successfully created novel financing solutions.

During the demonstration, Nicholas Kee, Co-Founder and CEO of Kee Farms, posed a central research question: “How does the Commonwealth Secretariat use the COMPASS model to secure $40 million of philanthropic and commercial investment supporting the sustainable growth of Kee Farms over the next 12 months?”. Mr. Kee’s insights as a young Commonwealth citizen and founder of an innovative start-up in Jamaica (a Small Island Developing State), shed light on the financing challenges faced by youth-led businesses.

The CPBC encouraged participants to innovate solutions, highlighting how Kee Farms could collaborate with other seaweed farmers in the region, co-creating market opportunities and attracting funding for the sector. Through this unique process, the team of 8 members of the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network and 10 COP28 delegates, gained a deeper understanding of the untapped assets and challenges of youth-led businesses. 

The CPBC demonstration showcased the power of scientific methods for collaboration and collective intelligence based on systems thinking. It also brought together a diverse group of members from the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network alongside interested participants from the wider COP28 attendees. 

4. CRSD also launched the THRIVE Academy, a groundbreaking collaboration between CSRD and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to empower leaders in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region to transform to sustainable and equitable food systems to meet sustainability and climate challenges. The THRIVE Academy was launched with a well-received training session in Dubai with leaders from 19 NENA nations. 

The THRIVE Initiative focuses on capacity-building, establishing regional hubs of excellence within top-level Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The hubs will become lead research partners and nodes of excellence for knowledge production and transfer across the region and beyond. 

THRIVE focuses on food systems, recognizing their critical role in sustainability, health, and social equity. It aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), emphasising holistic well-being and planetary health. THRIVE supports advocacy for sustainable policies that balance political considerations, economic growth, environmental protection, and social equity. It also engages diverse stakeholders, including policymakers, researchers, and practitioners, to co-create solutions that benefit all segments of society. 

THRIVE embodies CRSD’s commitment to transformative action-research. The THRIVE Academy will equip young leaders with knowledge, skills,  networks and commitment to drive food system transformation,  and engage in policy formulation and implementation.

What Did CRSD Achieve at COP28?

CRSD interventions and networking at COP28 showcased, on a global stage, CRSD’s impressive leadership in designing and implementing effective methods to generate policies and actions that directly influence responses to climate change. CRSD’s methods have transformative potential: they can stimulate changes in global decision-making and finance systems, and amplify the agency of less powerful proponents of climate justice. 

The Centre’s innovative models and methods, based on real-life situations and sound research, offer globally relevant solutions to contemporary real world challenges. CRSD’s ability to collaborate and co-create with global and local entities, while drawing out local knowledge and experience in policy-making, are aspects of its unique capacity to identify and test much-needed solutions for issues related to climate change and sustainable development. 

At COP28 CRSD demonstrated that its innovative combination of transdisciplinary action research and collaborative solution-and policy building offers real-time, experience-grounded approaches and tools for local and global players to use now - enabling them to take agency on their paths to climate action an climate justice. 

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Elizabeth Carriere OBE is a former British civil servant with extensive experience in international development. She served as Governor of Montserrat from 2015 to 2018. Carriere holds an MSc in Public Policy and Management from the University of London. Throughout her career, she held various senior positions with the Department for International Development (DFID), including postings in Indonesia, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Rwanda, and South Sudan. After leaving government service, she joined CARE as Managing Deputy Regional Director for the Great Lakes of Central Africa, overseeing operations in Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, and Burundi.

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