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In the fight against climate change and to support economic growth, the blue economy is perhaps the most important candidate. But what is it exactly?
With climate change already wreaking havoc on the planet, coastal communities are among the most exposed to extreme weather events and the impact of rising and warming oceans. About 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of a coastline. But the whole world depends on the health and sustainability of our oceans.
What is the blue economy?
According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, as well as improving livelihoods while maintaining the health of the ocean ecosystem.
According to the European Commission, a blue economy is defined as “all economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts. It covers a wide range of interconnected established and emerging sectors. This definition generally encompasses three key factors: contribution to oceans and economies, environmental and ecological sustainability of the oceans, and mobilizing ocean economies to support growth in both developed and developing countries.
“When we talk about ‘blue economy’, we are talking about managing the ocean in such a way that it is healthy and continues to benefit people,” says Keith Lawrence, chief economist at Conservation International’s Center for Oceans.
“We used to think of the ocean as this endless, unknowable, infinite resource that we could never fully tap into and didn’t really need to manage because it’s so massive and exists through herself.”
All of this is changing as nations begin to look for ways to protect the oceans while supporting the communities that depend on them, meaning all communities, even those not located near sides. This is largely due to the role the oceans play in transport, carbon storage and food.
Why do we need the blue economy?
The damage to our oceans has become apparent in recent years as patches of plastic waste can now be found in the world’s oceans. The largest, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is twice the size of Texas, according to recent measurements.
Plastic pollution threatens marine life and ecosystems. It also threatens the food system and the ability of the oceans to sequester carbon. The oceans currently sequester about seven to eight gigatonnes of Co2 per year, almost as much as the world’s forests. But the increasing acidification of the oceans makes them less effective at sequestering carbon.
Overfishing only makes the problem worse. For decades, fish have been removed from the oceans. Commercial fishing has put that number now in the trillions every year. For comparison, around 55 billion animals are raised on earth for food, already nearly eight times the world’s human population. The best fisheries estimates suggest that two to three trillion fish are removed from the oceans each year. Although criticized for a number of inaccurate facts, the 2021 film Marine suction clearly details the number of problems with the fishing industry, including its impact on the oceans as well as human rights abuses, among other issues.
Communities heavily dependent on seafood have a harder time sourcing fish, and the imbalance in the food system has also opened up waterways to invasive species. This puts increasing pressure on natural ecosystems and brings new stresses to local food systems.
There are also trade-offs in value positioning and perceptions, Lawrence says.
“When we make a decision to allow deep sea mining in one place and we make a decision somewhere else to protect a place, for example for its beautiful coral reefs, we are implicitly making these decisions that something has more more valuable than the other,” Lawrence says. “And economics gives you a way to quantify that and make more informed and rational decisions.”
The value also goes for things we don’t see like oxygen-producing or carbon-sequestering phytoplankton. Some estimates suggest that the value of carbon captured from the ocean floor is close to $30 trillion. A single whale’s role in carbon sequestration can earn it millions of dollars over its lifetime. “We have to agree that whales are an international public good,” Ralph Chami, deputy director of the IMF’s Institute for Capacity Development, told National Geographic in 2019.
Chami and his colleagues estimated the value of a large whale for carbon capture alone to be around $2 million per whale. This brings the total value of their population to over 1 trillion.
But for most people, especially cultures that still have spiritual ties to animals, the life of the whale is priceless.
The oceans are, as naturalist John Muir has pointed out, intertwined. “When we try to pick something out on its own, we find it’s tied to everything else in the universe,” he said.
“Nature’s services are valuable – whether we put a monetary value on them or not,” said Mahbubul Alam, research economist for Conservation International.
“However, giving nature’s services a monetary value is a powerful way to communicate their functional value, for example, the contribution of whale watching to a local economy. This does not mean that “$X” is the value of the whale itself, but rather that the whales contribute “$X” to the economy, thus providing an economic reason to conserve the whales. »
Promoting a blue economy
Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its Blue Economy Strategic Plan detailing how the United States can advance its blue economy and help improve it globally.
According to NOAA, coastal economies support 2.3 million jobs and add more than $370 billion to GDP through a range of activities such as tourism and recreation, shipping and transportation, electricity, food and related goods and services.
But that’s just the U.S. The World Bank’s global ocean economy portfolio has exceeded $9 billion and includes projects spanning sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, integrated coastal and marine ecosystem management, l circular economy and improving marine plastic solid waste management, sustainable coastal tourism, shipping, and more.
“The ocean is one of the big economic frontiers right now,” Lawrence says. “Almost all of the world’s trade is carried by sea. You have offshore oil and gas and deep sea mining. As we innovate in technologies, we are able to go – and exploit – places where we could not go before. . The ocean has enormous potential to provide major solutions to help feed the planet and provide clean energy and jobs.
“But if we do so without thinking, we risk damaging Earth’s greatest life support system – a system that provides for people, animals, ecosystems.”