Amid the global pandemic, can Oceans still be our lifeline and how can we achieve that
Oceans have been lifelines of the global economy since ancient times. From sea trading, fishing, Ocean Thermal Energy (OTE), oil and natural gas and more, oceans have contributed to the growth and development of many nations. However, humankind has not been grateful for the marine resources, since we have turned them into giant dump yards of plastics and other toxic, non-biodegradable wastes, and further polluted with oil spills, thus threatening the fragile ecosystem of oceans. Not only that, due to increasing global warming, we have turned the ocean waters into more acidic, and warmer, which has resulted in the death of coral reefs. Ramifications of activities like overfishing have led to the extinction of many marine species, endangering global food security, etc. Keeping these in mind authorities and governments around are slowly taking action to enable sustainable ocean economy.
According to World Resources Institute, a sustainable ocean economy refers to a scenario where humans effectively safeguard marine and coastal ecosystems, uses ocean resources such as seafood in a sustainable way, and ensures that benefits from the ocean and ocean industries are shared fairly and can last into the future.
The COVID-19 Factor
This is important because, sustainable use of the oceans can help in facilitating prosperity and the welfare of the global population. Besides, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a sharp blow on the ocean economy. According to the World Ocean Initiative, before the pandemic, the OECD had forecast that by 2030 the ocean economy would double in size to US$3 trillion. Thus, providing full-time employment for around 40 million people. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, industries like shipping and logistics, commercial fishing and tourism has come to a halt.
According to the World Economic Forum, coastal communities were hit hardest, bringing an estimated US$7.4 billion plunge in GDP across the Small Island Developing States due to the decline in tourism. The links between ocean-based sectors and land-based economies could imply that these impacts have economic and social repercussions across the entire economy. As per the predictions by Economist Intelligence Unit, global output and global trade will contract by larger margins in 2020 than it did during the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
We have entered the third decade of the 21st century, yet the oceans remain one of the least-developed regions on earth. Despite the urgency of enhancing the ocean health, the ‘blue economy’ is still confined to debates and papers. This has also a great impact in ensuring steps for bringing sustainability and investments, as blue economy typically prioritizes growth over sustainability.
Proposed Plans by Ocean Panel
Recently, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (the Ocean Panel), have put forward a new ocean action agenda underpinned by sustainably managing 100% of national waters. Launched in 2018 by 14 world leaders, the High Level Panel for A Sustainable Ocean Economy was is leading the initiative for a sustainable ocean economy. It includes leaders from Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal. These leaders, represent, people from across all ocean basins, accounting for nearly 40% of the world’s coastlines and 30% of exclusive economic zones.
The Ocean Panel announced that until 2025, they will manage the ocean area under national jurisdiction in a totally sustainable way, a path that they hope will be followed by all coastal and ocean states by 2030. For this, in terms of ocean health, they have set a goal, by 2030, to balance the stocks of wild fish, cultivate sustainable aquaculture and minimize waste. As a result, strong actions will be taken to eliminate illegal fishing and subsidies that contribute to overfishing, minimize by-catches and adopt scientific plans to ensure fisheries management that responds to climate change and the “uncertainty” of ecosystems.
The panel has developed a transformative set of recommendations and actions to advance a sustainable ocean economy, prioritizing a #healthyocean alongside sustainable production to benefit people everywhere. This is crucial as oceans are the key to solving various challenging tasks the world is facing today. This comprises of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty, combating climate change, creating jobs, supporting researches for fighting disease and pandemics, and ensuring affordable and clean energy.
In its Special Report titled ‘The Ocean as a Solution to Climate Change: Five Opportunities for Action’, the new Ocean Panel has commissioned research finds that every US$1 invested in the sustainable ocean economy will yield at least US$5 in return, often more, over the next 30 years. As per report, ‘Ocean Solutions That Benefit People, Nature and the Economy’ Specifically, investing US$2 trillion to US$3.7 trillion globally across four key areas viz., conserving and restoring mangrove habitats, scaling up offshore wind production, decarbonizing international shipping and increasing the production of sustainably sourced ocean-based proteins—from 2020 to 2050 would generate US$8.2 trillion to US$22.8 trillion in net benefits, a rate of return on investment of 450–615%.
It asks policymakers to work of achieving sustainable ocean economy by doing the following:
- Use science and data to drive decision-making
- Engage in goal-oriented ocean planning
- De-risk finance and use innovation to mobilize investment
- Stop land-based pollution
- Change ocean accounting so that it reflects the true value of the ocean.
Estimates show that a healthy ocean could, with 30% of it protected effectively, deliver the following: 20% of the carbon emission reductions needed to achieve the Paris climate agreement’s warming limit of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, 40 times more renewable energy than was generated in 2018, 6 times more sustainable seafood; generate12 million jobs; and US$15.5 trillion in net economic benefits.
Another Ocean Panel-commissioned report titled, ‘A Sustainable & Equitable Blue Recovery to the COVID-19 Crisis’, was launched digitally on 16 September 2020. In this report, a timely and practical roadmap has been suggested featuring five priority blue stimulus opportunities that are ripe for the immediate investment of stimulus funding. For policy and financial decision-makers, these are ready-made solutions to unlock much-needed relief and resilience and build a fair and just sustainable ocean economy fit for everyone’s future. These five proposed opportunities are:
- Invest in Sewerage and Wastewater Infrastructure for Coastal Communities.
- Invest in Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Restoration and Protection.
- Invest in Sustainable Community-Led Non-Fed Mariculture.
- Incentivize Sustainable Ocean-Based Renewable Energy.
- Incentivize the Transition to Zero-Emission Marine Transport.