By Santo D. Banerjee
The concept of sustainable blue economy is gaining momentum, including at the highest levels of decision making, encouraging proponents of the growing movement to believe that humans can use the ocean as a tool for lifting people out of poverty, all the while protecting its valuable ecosystems.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the first-ever Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, held in Kenya in November 2018, brought together thousands of ocean experts and activists to discuss how to sustainably use the ocean, and according to experts, the conference proved to be an important stepping stone towards the next anticipated UN Ocean Conference in 2020.
As Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in his remarks, it provided an international forum for advancing global conversation on the two important pillars of the Blue Economy: on one hand, sustainability, climate change and controlling pollution; on the other, production, accelerated economic growth, jobs and poverty alleviation.
Earlier, in September 2018, 12 heads of state from around the world and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, launched the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy to catalyse bold solutions for ocean health and wealth.
“I’m very pleased to see that 1,500 voluntary commitments have now been registered in our global effort to support SDG14, to conserve and sustainably use the resources of the ocean,” said Ambassador Thomson.
Recent commitments include: The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators will contribute to the UN Environment Clean Seas initiative by drastically cutting back on single-use plastics on Arctic cruise vessels and include shoreline clean-ups in its programmes.
The Government of Mauritius has committed to restore its mangroves and hold mangrove education events, as well as map its mangrove ecosystems by June 2020 to overcome knowledge gaps and offer an early warning system to identify threats.
The Associazione Mediterraneo Ricerca e Sviluppo in Italy is working to protect the habitat of bottlenose dolphins in the Sicilian Channel and increase scientific knowledge about them.
The Mundus Maris organization launched a small-scale fisheries academy in Senegal to serve as a space for reflection, training and knowledge-sharing for local fishermen.
All of the ocean commitments are required to submit progress reports once a year until the completion of the initiative to maintain active status. A “traffic light” transparency system on the platform shows the status of each commitment.
To follow-up on the implementation of the voluntary commitments, to catalyse and generate new voluntary commitments, and to facilitate collaboration among different actors in support of SDG 14, the UN has launched nine thematic multi-stakeholder Communities of Ocean Action (COAs).
Each community is coordinated by designated co-focal points who work together with the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean and UN DESA in carrying out the activities. The nine COAs are: Coral reefs; Implementation of international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; Mangroves; Marine and coastal ecosystems management; Marine pollution; Ocean acidification; Scientific knowledge, research capacity development and transfer of marine technology; Sustainable blue economy; and Sustainable fisheries.
Against this backdrop, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Thomson said: “The international community has a universal plan to reverse the cycle of decline in which the Ocean has been caught – I refer of course to SDG 14, the ocean goal. The nine COAs set up at the United Nations to steward the voluntary commitments will work with the organizations that made these new commitments to assist in their implementation and thereby help us along the road to achievement of all ten of SDG 14’s targets.”
But what do we mean by a “blue economy”? Madhushree Chatterjee, Chief of the Natural Resources and Interlinkages Branch of United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)‘s Division for Sustainable Development Goals told the January issue of UN DESA Voice:
“The blue economy comprises a range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of ocean resources is sustainable. An important challenge of the blue economy is to understand and better manage the many aspects of oceanic sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health to preventing pollution.
“Secondly, the blue economy challenges us to realize that the sustainable management of ocean resources will require collaboration across borders and sectors through a variety of partnerships, and on a scale that has not been previously achieved. This is a tall order, particularly for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) who face significant limitations.”
How can building a blue economy help us achieve the SDGs? Chatterjee said: “The blue economy concept seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion and preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability – all issues integral to the 2030 Agenda.
“So, to build a blue economy, we will need to put sustainability at its centre. This will require careful attention to all decisions and their cross‑sectoral implications. We will need to ensure that policies do not undermine each other and that interlinkages are leveraged for the benefit of people, planet and prosperity.”
Why is a healthy ocean so important for current and future generations? “The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, medicines and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all provided and regulated by the sea,” noted Chatterjee.
Living oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce climate change impacts, she added. The oceans also provide convenient transport routes for everything from food and fuel to construction materials, chemicals and household items. Moreover, UN Environment estimates the cumulative economic impact of poor ocean management practices is at least $200 billion per year.
“The declining health of our ocean shows that the world is simply not doing enough. However, as part of the 2017 UN Ocean Conference, a diverse range of stakeholders, from local grassroots organizations to governments, NGOs and the private sector, committed to reversing the decline of ocean health through saving our mangroves, alleviating the impacts of ocean acidification, halting plastic pollution and more,” said Chaterjee.
She added: Those 1,400+ commitments are now grouped into nine Communities of Ocean Action, and UN DESA is providing a platform for them to work together. Now, it is time to ramp up the implementation of such initiatives, identify gaps, exchange ideas, find creative solutions, scale up where possible and, most importantly, to work together to implement Sustainable Development Goal 14 – life under water.”