“Blue Economy” as a climate change solution
More than 130countries have declared commitments to reach net zero emissions by 2030-2050 through formulating laws, policy documents, declarations, or proposals to achieve the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. This commitment may be fulfilled by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to as near to zero as feasible and enabling any leftover emissions to be reabsorbed into the atmosphere by several ecosystems, such as forests, oceans, and seas. Besides, it is vital for low-income and middle-income countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change now. The newly emerging "blue economy" may significantly contribute to attaining net zero emissions by sufficiently addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation.
When we say blue economy, we are talking about all economic activities associated with oceans, seas, and coasts-from fishing to coastal tourism to transport to renewable marine energy. Blue economy emphasizes on the sustainability of the ocean for economic growth, whereas the ocean economy encompasses all ocean-based economic activities, industries, and services. Although there is no universally accepted definition of blue economy, 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 ocean ecosystems." The term "blue economy" was first used during the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, in June 2012.
According to the World Bank, the global blue economy is estimated to be worth USD 1.5 trillion annually. As per the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the blue economy created around 31 million direct full-time jobs, or 1% of all employment worldwide, in 2010. All countries, except the 44 landlocked countries, are connected to at least an ocean or sea. Therefore, blue economy is vital for advancing humanity on a global scale and achieving the ten targets of the fourteenth goal of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- "Life Below Water."
The blue economy is becoming extremely important in tackling climate change. This approach incorporates a number of Nature-based Solutions (NbS). NbS is defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as actions that protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems by sustainably harnessing natural resources to address environmental issues, climate change impacts, societal challenges, and maintain human well-being while also enhancing biodiversity.Nature-based Solutions include constructions that are natural, green, and integrated (i.e. forest conservation, reforestation and afforestation etc.), as opposed to traditional 'grey' infrastructure.
Ocean-based foods (i.e., fish and crustaceans) use less water and energy than crops cultivated on land to produce, and, therefore, emit less carbon. Moreover, it minimizes the risks that climate change poses to food security. Technologies for ocean-based renewable energy are becoming more prevalent, and gradually reducing the global usage of fossil fuels. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that healthy coral reefs defend against climatic hazards by lowering the intensity of waves by an average of 97%.
If appropriately managed, coastal ecosystems offer significant protection to climatic hotspots against events like cyclones, coastal erosion, sea level rise, and tidal surges in the context of climate change adaptation. For several vulnerable countries, sustainable use of the resources provided by the oceans and coastal areas is crucial for continued economic growth and also to stop climate-induced displacement and migration. Blue economy strongly supports climate change adaptation by fostering options for sustainable livelihood utilizing marine resources. To reduce future climate risks effectively, the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) strongly emphasizes promoting ecosystem-based adaptation using existing marine and coastal resources.
However, data from 2021 show that despite the ocean's ability to mitigate climate change, of the 192 countries, only eight have incorporated quantifiable data on marine carbon sequestration into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.
The High-Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel), made up of 14 government heads, outlined five opportunities for climate action in one of their recent reports, where it explains how the ocean can be utilized to reduce GHG emissions, adapt to climate change, and achieve the SDGs. These are 1. Investing in ocean-based renewable energy; 2. Cutting GHG emissions from ocean-based transportation; 3. Protecting coastal and marine ecosystems; 4. Promoting ocean-based fisheries, aquaculture, and changing dietary preferences away from terrestrial animal-based proteins towards ocean-based options; and 5. Carbon storage in the seabed.
Though industrialized countries' interest in promoting the blue economy is gradually expanding, developing countries remain largely unconcerned about it. The developing countries should undertake more extensive research on the blue economy. More evidence-based research, action research, and knowledge generation and dissemination are needed to fill the knowledge gap. We must keep in mind that if we cannot use the resources of the oceans as well as nature responsibly, the future generations will have to pay a far higher price.
The writer works for an international development organization and an associate of the Youth Policy Forum