Expert voices Vol 23, No. 1 - January 2019

Diving into the blue economy

Can humans use the ocean as a tool for lifting people out of poverty, all the while protecting its valuable ecosystems? Certainly, say proponents of the growing sustainable blue economy movement. 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 our ocean.

The concept is gaining momentum , including at the highest levels of decision making. In September, 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. We asked Madhushree Chatterjee, Chief of the Natural Resources and Interlinkages Branch of UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development Goals to give us her impressions of this growing movement.

What do we mean by a “blue economy”?

“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?

“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. Living oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce climate change impacts. 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.”

What can we do to improve our ocean’s health?

“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. 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.”

What did the recent Sustainable Blue Economy Conference achieve?

“As Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in his remarks at the Conference, 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. Discussions at the conference emphasized how oceans, seas, lakes and rivers can help us achieve our common objective of sustainable economic growth, thereby contributing to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. With about 18,000 participants, 184 countries, and more than 300 events and 200 speakers, the conference proved to be an important stepping stone towards the next anticipated UN Ocean Conference in 2020.”

For more information:

UN DESA’s Sustainable Knowledge Platform


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