Blue economy vital for attaining SDGs, savine marine creatures

Blue economy vital for attaining SDGs, savine marine creatures
بقلم Marwa Nassar - -

The concept of “blue economy” is premised on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), this concept is based on protection and the restoration of the ocean base, which provides livelihood and food to many in the world and sustainability of economic activities.

The World Bank defines blue economy as the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of oceans ecosystems. It impacts human activities such as fisheries, transport, renewable energy, waste management, climate change and tourism. A large number of international organizations, as well as government, businesses and civil society groups, have raised concerns about the need to safeguard the marine wealth. In this regard, the UN Environment Executive Director Joyce Msuya recently observed that “by investing in ocean-based sustainable development, we can safeguard the environment, propel the Blue Economy to new heights, and ensure that communities and business all thrive.”

The blue economy moves beyond business as usual to consider economic development and ocean health as compatible propositions. In a blue economy, the environmental risks of and ecological damage from economic activity are mitigated or significantly reduced. Thus, economic activity is in balance with the long-term capacity of ocean ecosystems to support this activity and remain resilient and healthy. It is generally understood to be a long-term strategy aimed at supporting sustainable economic growth through oceans-related sectors and activities, while at the same time improving human well-being and social equity and preserving the environment.

A blue economy is low-carbon, efficient, and clean. It is also an economy that is based on sharing, circularity, collaboration, solidarity, resilience, opportunity, and interdependence. Its growth is driven by investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy efficiency, harness the power of natural capital—such as the oceans—and halt the loss of biodiversity and the benefits that ecosystems provide. Blue growth, or environmentally sustainable economic growth based on the oceans, is a strategy of sustaining economic growth and job creation necessary to reduce poverty in the face of worsening resource constraints and climate crisis.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea also serves to be an important instrument for the regulation of the blue economy.

In the international trade law arena, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been at the forefront of protecting maritime wealth. The WTO members have negotiated disciplines on fisheries subsidies to regulate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Similarly, the interplay between environment and international investment protection has gained importance in the last few years.

In 2018, the Commonwealth nations adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which affirmed a collective commitment to preserving and nurturing oceans.

The world counts numerous coastal and island countries with lower and lower-middle income levels, for whom oceans represent a significant jurisdictional area and a source of opportunity. In those countries, innovation and growth in the coastal, marine and maritime sectors could deliver food, energy, transport, among other products and services, and serve as a foundation for sustainable development. 

Diversifying countries’ economies beyond landbased activities and along their coasts is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth globally. In Europe for example, the blue economy represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year.

The worldwide ocean economy is valued at around $1.5 trillion per year. About 80 percent of global trade by volume is carried by sea.  About 350 million jobs world-wide are linked to fisheries.

By 2025, it is estimated that 34% of crude oil production will come from offshore fields.

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector and provides about 50% of fish for human consumption.

Sustainable fisheries can be an essential component of a prosperous blue economy, with marine fisheries contributing more than $270 billion annually to global GDP. A key source of economic and food security, marine fisheries provide livelihoods for over 300 million people involved in the sector and help meet the nutritional needs of the 3 billion people who rely on fish as an important source of animal protein, essential micronutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids. Fish contributes over 16 percent of the animal protein consumed by the world’s population and 6.5 percent of all protein consumed.

The role of fisheries is particularly important in many of the world’s poorest communities, where fish are a critical source of protein and the sector provides a social safety net. Women represent the majority in secondary activities related to marine fisheries and marine aquaculture, such as fish processing and marketing. In many places, employment opportunities have enabled young people to stay in their communities and have strengthened the economic viability of isolated areas, often enhancing the status of women in developing countries. For billions around the world—many among the world’s poorest—healthy fisheries, the growing aquaculture sector, and inclusive trade mean more jobs, increased food security and well-being, and resilience against climate change. While the impacts of climate change are being felt throughout the ocean realm, they are particularly acute for fisheries, the fish stocks they target and the marine coastal ecosystems on which they depend.

FAO estimates that fishers, fish farmers and those supplying services and goods to related industries assure the livelihoods of as many as 660–820 million people worldwide. In addition, women play a critical role in fishery supply chains – it is estimated that women account for 15 percent of people directly engaged in fisheries and up to 90 percent of jobs in secondary activities (particularly in fish processing, whether in the formal or informal sector). Oceans and coasts also form the foundation for extensive employment in tourism – one of the top five industries in most small island states.

The world’s population is expected to rise to 9.6 billion by 2050, creating a considerable demand for food and sources of protein. Today, fish and fish products supply a significant portion of the daily intake of animal protein in many developing countries. As aquaculture supplies 58 percent of fish to global markets, invigorating this sector can contribute to food security as well as social and economic inclusion for some of the poorest people in the world. Locally, aquaculture can help lessen the need for fish imports and increase employment, as well as contribute to food security and meet nutrition needs.

About 31.4 percent of fish stocks were estimated as fished at a biologically unsustainable level and therefore overfished. Fish stocks are further affected by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which as noted earlier accounts for roughly 11–26 million tons of fish catch, or $10– 22 billion in unlawful or undocumented revenue. Thus, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is responsible for about the same amount of global harvest as would be gained by ending overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks. In fact, poor fisheries management results in foregone revenues of more than $80 billion annually, which could be recovered if global fisheries were reformed significantly, especially through a 44 percent reduction in the level of fishing.

SDG Target 14.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals focuses on enhancing the economic benefits to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through the sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism. The world has 54 lower and lower-middle income coastal and island countries for whom oceans represent a significant jurisdictional area and a source of tremendous opportunity. Oceans and their marine resources are thus the base upon which the economies of many SIDS and coastal LDCs are built, and they are central to their culture and sustainable development, to poverty reduction, and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

A recent analysis predicts that coastal fisheries in 16 of the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories will not be able to provide sufficient nutrition to a rapidly growing population by 2020 and that improved access to tuna, more-efficient fisheries governance, and expansion of pond aquaculture can collectively improve food security and public health. Regardless of the size of operations, sustainable aquaculture, by definition, must be economically viable and environmentally sound. 

Additionally, in regions where aquaculture and fisheries have played a culturally significant role over a long period of time, it must also be culturally appropriate and must not be carried out at the expense of reducing access to essential resources by small scale fishers and others.

Coastal and Maritime Tourism: 

Tourism, fast becoming the largest global business, employs 1 out of every 11 persons globally. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism’s contribution to world GDP grew for the sixth consecutive year in 2015, rising to a total of 9.8 percent ($7.2 trillion). 

The World Tourism Organization calculated that 2016 was the seventh consecutive year of sustained growth in international arrivals, which grew by 46 million over the previous year to reach 1,235 million. The number of international tourists visiting SIDS destinations increased from 28 million in 2000 to 41 million in 2013. In the same period, exports from tourism grew from $26 billion to $53 billion.

Tourism can, therefore, be an important source of foreign exchange and is tied to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of many countries. Maritime or ocean-related tourism, as well as coastal tourism, are vital sectors of the economy in many countries, including in SIDS and coastal LDCs. Coastal and ocean-related tourism comes in many forms and includes dive tourism, maritime archaeology, surfing, cruises, ecotourism, and recreational fishing operations. 

Sustainable tourism can be part of the blue economy, promote conservation and sustainable use of marine environments and species, generate income for local communities (thus alleviating poverty), and maintain and respect local cultures, traditions, and heritage. In this context, tourism, if it is well managed and monitored, can be an important contributor to the sustainable development of SIDS and coastal LDCs.

The tourism sector has played a key role in the development of many island economies and in helping them advance in the fight against poverty. In addition, the sustainable development fostered by the tourism sector can trigger similar developments in other economic activities and help protect the natural and cultural resources of islands. Therefore, policies, programs, and interventions aimed at SIDS and other island economies can in some instances benefit from the inclusion of tourism as a sector to help accelerate sustainable consumption and production patterns in the development of the blue economy. It should also be noted that the tourism sector in SIDS and coastal LDCs is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as well as fluctuations in global economies. Thus, addressing vulnerabilities and developing resilience through coastal adaptation and multiple sources of income is important.

Extractive Industries: 

Offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation are already under way off the coasts of many states around the world, and much has already been learned about the need to manage the risks these activities incur and some of the measures that can be taken to alleviate them. Less clear, however, is the need to balance the focus on these activities as opposed to other uses, which quite often are not compatible. It is ultimately up to the coastal states to weigh the trade-offs between these potentially lucrative activities and the extent to which they preclude other uses of marine resources, including the sustainable exploitation of marine living resources. In contrast, the situation is much less clear with regards to the exploitation of offshore mineral resources. To meet the growing demand for minerals, momentum from both national governments and the private sector has catalyzed the development of deep-seabed mining, where a clear distinction must be made between minerals extraction under national jurisdiction.

The World Bank has recommended in one of its reports that countries supporting or considering deep-sea mining (DSM) activities proceed with the highest degree of caution to avoid irreversible damage to the ecosystem and that they ensure that appropriate social and environmental safeguards are in place as part of strong governance arrangements for this emerging industry. The report highlighted the need to take a precautionary approach, particularly in view of the potential impacts on marine living resources upon which these states depend almost exclusively. In that context, the World Bank prepared a series of measures that can be considered in order to implement the precautionary approach to seabed mining to the fullest extent possible.

Desalination (freshwater generation):  

Securing adequate quantities of clean and safe water to meet the needs of a growing population is one of the greatest challenges and obstacle to development. Access to safe drinking water is particularly critical for SIDS and coastal LDCs, with profound implications for economic growth, human rights, public health, and the environment. Meeting this demand for freshwater is expected to become increasingly difficult in the context of climate change, with many regions facing more variable precipitation patterns and decreased water availability. Water managers and planners are increasingly looking at desalination— the conversion of seawater or brackish groundwater to freshwater—as a technical, supply-side solution that can meet current water demands and buffer against the negative impacts of climate change on water resources. Despite its high energy cost, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lists desalination as an “adaptation option” that may be particularly important in arid and semiarid regions.

The capacity of desalination plants on-line witnessed about 57 percent increase in more than five years ago, according to the latest data published by the International Desalination Association and Global Water Intelligence. This increase in production capacity reflects the fact that coastal communities are increasingly turning to the sea to meet their drinking-water needs, while inland there is a tendency for groundwater to become increasingly brackish over time. Around 60 percent of desalination capacity treats seawater, with the remainder treating brackish and less saline feed water. 

Desalination is used in 150 countries, ranging from Australia to China and Japan, the United States, Spain and other European countries, the Middle East, and North Africa. Desalination is an attractive option for many water-scarce SIDS and coastal LDCs, especially where the necessary technical and financial capacity is available and when more-traditional strategies are inadequate or inapplicable. Desalination technologies capable of producing significant quantities of water generally have high upfront capital and operational costs and produce environmental impacts that are not well understood but that include potential impacts on marine organisms and their larvae during the intake of seawater.

As desalination projects have multiplied, additional concerns have arisen with regards to cumulative impacts, including temperature pollution (the release into nearby coastal areas of much hotter water used in the process) and the gradual increases in salinity in areas where the brine that results from the process is released. Some of these environmental impacts can be reduced or mitigated, for example through proper situating of seawater intake and dilution of brine before its release in the marine environment. Mitigating impacts, including through capacity building and technology transfer, may make desalination a more sustainable option for SIDS and coastal LDCs confronted with freshwater scarcity. The high demand for energy in desalination has, in a few instances, been addressed through the development of renewable technologies. For instance, Saudi Arabia started building its first solar-powered desalination plant in 2016, and new technology that can both desalinate seawater for drinking and produce electricity by exploiting the difference in temperatures between the surface of the sea and ocean depth (ocean thermal energy conversion, OTEC) is the subject of increasing interest and research. Regardless of these technological advances, however, the costs of desalination technology remain high, and the recourse to desalination remains an option best adapted. When other alternatives have been explored and failed.

Maritime Transport, Ports and Related Services, Shipping, and Shipbuilding: 

In 2015, over 80 percent of the volume of international trade in goods was transported by sea, and this share is even higher for most developing countries. In value terms, some observers such as Lloyd’s List Intelligence have estimated the share of maritime seaborne trade at 55 percent of all international trade in 2013, while other estimates exceed 70 percent.

Globally, shipping provides the principal mode of transport for the supply of raw materials, consumer goods, essential foodstuffs, and energy. It is thus a prime facilitator of global trade and contributor to economic growth and employment, both at sea and ashore. Some estimates indicate that international seaborne trade volumes can be expected to double by 2030, while, according to the International Transport Forum, port volumes are projected to quadruple by 2050. The impacts of climate change (such as sea-level rise, increasing temperatures, and more frequent and/or intense storms) pose serious threats to vital transport infrastructure, services, and operations, particularly in SIDS and coastal LDCs, a matter which calls for better understanding of the underlying risks and vulnerabilities and developing adequate adaptation measures.

Given the strategic role of ports in the globalized trading system, developing measures for ports to adapt to the impacts of climate and building their resilience is an urgent imperative.

Under SDG 14.1, the world should by 2025 prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution. Improved fisheries management will contribute to a reduction in sea-based pollution from fishing vessels, especially in the form of discarded fishing gear, which will help reduce marine debris and ghost fishing.

By 2020, the world will sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, particularly by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans. Improved fisheries management will build resilience of ocean ecosystems as a whole.

By 2020, the world has to effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.

The world also needs by 2020 to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation.

Sustainable aquaculture causes minimal pollution and in the case of seaweed and mollusk culture is a net remover of nutrients from the aquatic environment. Sustainable, climate-smart aquaculture can help build resilience by increasing incomes and diversifying livelihoods.

The world should also increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries.

Deep-sea mining can undermine the resilience of marine ecosystems and species and should thus be preceded by effective social and environmental impact procedures.

Capacity building and technology transfer are required for SIDS and developing countries to participate in extractive activities Renewable (offshore) energy.

Ocean energy helps build self-sufficiency and reduce pollution, thus increasing resilience of SIDS and coastal countries. Capacity building and technology transfer are required for SIDS and developing countries to benefit from ocean energy and other renewables.

Desalination technologies may cause pollution in the form of brine and CO2 emissions, which will need to be reduced through appropriate technologies, including renewable sources of energy. Desalination, together with water conservation and good water governance, can help build self-sufficiency.

Desalination plants are expensive; financing, capacity building, and technology transfer are required for SIDS and developing countries to benefit from desalination maritime transport, ports and related services, shipping and shipbuilding.

Moreover, improved implementation of shipping regulations will reduce sea-based pollution. Improvement in management of ballast water, biofouling, and other transportation-related vectors of invasive species will improve overall resilience of marine and coastal ecosystems. Implementation of more-sustainable and low-carbon transportation systems globally will require both capacity building and technology transfer.

Sustainable coastal development and integrating climate change considerations into planning and development can enhance economic, social, and environmental resilience.

Sustainable tourism reduces marine pollution both from land-based and ship-based sources. Sustainable tourism can help build ecosystem and human resilience.

By 2020, conserving at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information, sustainable tourism can provide financing for marine protected areas as well as ocean monitoring and surveillance.

Ocean monitoring provides better data for sustainable management and protection. Monitoring and surveillance are important components of sustainable fisheries.

Capacity building and technology transfer are required for SIDS and developing countries to benefit from ocean surveillance technologies. Ocean monitoring and surveillance will assist in implementing international law, including UNCLOS Coastal and marine area management, protection, and restoration.

Management of blue carbon ecosystems will not only maintain their capacity to store carbon and provide possible economic benefits, but will also strengthen their resilience.

Blue carbon is the term for carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems. Where blue carbon ecosystems are conserved via marine protected areas or other effective means, they would also contribute to waste disposal management which is a key activity for reducing pollution of the coastal and marine environment and contributes to sustainable management of marine ecosystems and builds resilience.

The blue economy in Africa is neglected, ignored or underexploited, but it can offer a range of African solutions to African economic problems. More than one-quarter of Africa’s population lives within 100km of the coast and derive their livelihoods there. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), by 2020, the annual economic value of energy activities related to maritime affairs will reach EUR 2.5bn. Out of the 54 African countries, 34 are coastal countries and over 90% of African exports and imports are transported by sea. The territorial waters under African jurisdiction cover a surface area of 13 million km², with a continental shelf of some 6.5 million km² comprising exclusive economic zones (EEZ). The continent covers 17% of the world’s surface water resources. 

The strategic dimension of the blue economy is an indisputable reality for African countries. It is for this reason that it has been included in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and that a practical handbook on the blue economy was prepared by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in March 2016.

According to a FAO study, the total gross added value of the fisheries and aquaculture sector in Africa is estimated at $ 24bn, i.e. 1.6% of the GDP of all African countries. Still according to FAO, this sector employs some 12.3 million people, but is largely underexploited. There is a need to professionalize the aquaculture and fisheries sector.

By any standards, Africa is at least underusing, possibly even drastically wasting,its blue economy potential. This must be rectified. By some estimates, the African maritime industry is already worth $ 1 trillion annually. But, with the right economic policies implemented, it could triple in just two years.

There are also challenges related to climate change, rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and rising sea levels.

There are current conflicts driven by lack of demarcation of maritime and aquatic boundaries. This has been a constant source of tensions between neighboring countries, not only threatening any long-term investment considerations, but also leading to irresponsible use of resources.

The continent needs to fast-track resolution of disputes and strengthen their maritime and riparian cooperation mechanisms. This will provide grounds for working on interstate economies of scale and develop strategies for bridging technical and infrastructure gaps among states.

In line with SDG 14, development of this sector must also promote social inclusion while ensuring environmental sustainability. In this respect, the continent owes special consideration to people living along the shores of oceans, lakes and rivers, essentially youth and women. The question of how this new frontier can address poverty reduction and hunger when leaving no one behind must be a central consideration. 

The world needs to be able to govern resources effectively and be able to utilize them in a way that’s transparent and inclusive.

Equally daunting is required transboundary negotiation among at least 38 African countries, intensive planning, intersectoral planning, intragovernmental coordination, extensive training and complex multi-stakeholder engagement.

The African Union has launched its 2050 Integrated Maritime Strategy in a bid to provide a broad framework for the protection and sustainable exploitation of Africa’s marine resources. At its heart lies the creation of a Combined Exclusive Maritime Zone of Africa (CEMZA), a common maritime space intended to boost trade, protect the environment and fisheries, share information and boost border protection and defense activities.

The World Bank has also launched the Global Program on Fisheries (PROFISH), a multi-donor trust fund which focuses on improving environmental sustainability, human wellbeing, and economic performance in the world’s fisheries and aquaculture, with a focus on the welfare of the poor in fisheries and fish farming communities in the developing world. 

To date, PROFISH investments of $4.5 million in research, analysis and technical support have generated $1 billion in World Bank lending; created ALLFISH, which leveraged $1.5 million from the Global Environment Facility, into $8.5 million of private sector investments into sustainable seafood supply chains; and facilitated a $10 million investment of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in aquaculture, a return on investment of 727 percent. 

PROFISH builds its interventions on three pillars. The first pillar is governance which requires reforming policies, building public sector capacity, aligning economic interests with long-term sustainability, and promoting conditions that encourage business growth in a sustainable seafood sector. Public-private dialogue, stakeholder inclusion and strategic partnerships with donors, technical expertise, the private sector and clients help shape the fisheries agenda and position fisheries as central to today’s development challenges – poverty alleviation, climate change, and food security.

The second pillar is science and data which aim to generate state-of-the art scientific knowledge to inform sustainable fisheries and aquaculture policy and investment. 

The third pillar is markets and finance which aim to reduce waste, improve fish value chains, increase market access, and drive new investment opportunities in sustainably managed fisheries and aquaculture through innovative financing mechanisms. This brings together public and commercial finance, philanthropic capital and private equity to invest cooperatively in projects that create jobs, grow local economies and generate positive social impacts to scale up sustainable solutions in the fisheries sector.

Blue economy has proved to be vital to attain SDGs, particularly with regard to eradicating poverty, ending hunger, realizing food security, protecting the ecosystem and curbing climate change.  

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