Collaborate to Coordinate: Strategic Approaches to Blue Economy Development
08 11 2022

By Belinda Bramley, Associate, NLA International

Cancún’s location on the Caribbean Sea makes it one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations. Image credit: Consejo de Promocion Turistica de Quintana Roo.

In our previous article, we considered the overall scale and types of activities underway within the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) to support Blue Economy development around the world. We know to varying degrees of certainty that the financing gap for the Blue Economy is huge, the risks to private sector investors are high and that development banks and institutions together with the insurance industry therefore have a key role to play in reducing risks and catalysing a greater level of investment. Blue economy sectors ripe for investment include offshore clean energy; smart sustainable shipping and ports; more sustainable tourism; waste and pollution management; mariculture; grey-green infrastructure based on nature-based solutions and biotechnology research and development.

Towards this end, we believe there are many opportunities for the MDBs to innovate, collaborate, replicate and escalate in order to address pressing social, economic and environmental needs both now and into the future with sustainability in mind. These will be discussed further in our next article. For this to happen, national and regional Blue Economy initiatives with clear visions and competent, holistic governance mechanisms which can generate project pipelines are a prerequisite.

Creating a conducive Blue Economy investment environmentSeveral factors can hamper the flow of new finance into the Blue Economy at the national level. In many instances sovereign debt positions prevent new debt issuance, particularly for low income countries, around 60% of which are in or at risk of debt distress. In these instances it is hard to secure Blue Economy funding without some form of debt renegotiation and potentially this can form part of a debt-for-climate swap, or debt-for-nature swap, such as the transaction recently negotiated by the Government of Belize with its creditors. Facilitated by The Nature Conservancy, this transaction enabled the country to renegotiate a quarter of the country’s total public debt and create long-term sustainable financing for marine conservation, enabling Belize to implement protection of 30% of its national waters, including parts of the Mesoamerican Reef, by 2030. The Mesoamerican Reef is the world’s second largest reef system in the world, spanning 700 miles of coastline across Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. It is the only coral reef system in the world to be insured.

Some jurisdictions are too risky for investment due to “weak fiscal structures and legislative vacuums, which have resulted in illicit financial flows that allow for the perpetuation of criminal activities, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, piracy, illicit trafficking of goods and people and environmental crimes.” Agencies operating with limited budgets and single sector mandates such as water, energy or fisheries also lack capacity to collaborate and create holistic datasets and analyses, without dedicated incentives and mechanisms. Current, credible datasets on the extent and condition of natural resources, the environmental impacts of specific sectors and socio-economic and cultural strengths and dependencies are frequently lacking and yet are required to attract and demonstrate the effectiveness of Blue Economy investment.

Building the Blue Economy takes time because it involves coordinating many dimensions, disciplines and interest groups simultaneously. Enabling conditions which support a conducive investment environment encompass adequate science, data and technology; human capacity and skills development; transparent policy coherency and governance; fiscal stability; and enforcement capability. These all underpin effective coordination and form a core and sizeable element of successfully realising the Blue Economy.

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Image credit: NLAI’s Blue Economy in Practice report: “Whilst sectoral activities are optional in any Blue Economy approach, enabling activities are not.”

As we note in our recent Blue Economy in Practice report, “the scope of sectors open to each country ultimately depends upon natural resource availability, which in turn is increasingly affected by climate change. The capacity for countries to successfully implement a Blue Economy approach also depends upon social conditions and governance capacity[i]. Evidence shows that some Blue Economy approaches have failed to deliver the anticipated triple wins for society, nature and climate, and economy, when enabling activities such as considering the needs of communities and identifying appropriate governance structures are missing[ii].”

A key first step is to understand and measure how oceanic natural resources contribute to the ocean economy[iii]. Mapping and valuing oceanic natural resources and social and cultural strengths and dependencies whilst assessing risks and impacts to these natural and human assets sets the scene for development and helps identify trade-offs. From this baseline a credible Blue Economy roadmap and vision can be articulated, with input from all ocean stakeholders, supporting investment plans and outreach.

New programmes of work such as evidence-led marine spatial planning, compilation and maintenance of ocean accounts, and enforcement of legal, licensed and regulated activities require trained personnel. Tapping into existing international knowledge partnerships such as MSPGlobal, the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership and the Joint Analytical Cell for fisheries intelligence can support local skills acquisition and be reinforced by creating new Blue Economy departments within existing universities or institutes to develop home-grown knowledge and skills. Digitalisation, business and financial literacy skills for new constituencies, supported by the banking and finance sectors, can support enterprise growth and new value chains.

Sustained cross-governmental coordination and broad stakeholder engagement with business, academia and civil society are required. As stated recently in a Blue Economy report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa: “What is needed is a different form of collaboration across disciplines and across sectors in order to generate a more holistic approach. This is necessary not only for innovation but also for sound policymaking itself. Matching regulatory and institutional choices with appropriate budget mechanisms is essential”.

All of this requires strong and sustained political commitment at the highest levels to activate a sustainable blue economy and to innovate around cross-sector and cross-stakeholder governance and investment opportunities.

Successful approaches to Blue Economy coordination

New approaches to Blue Economy coordination continue to evolve. In August, Mexico announced the publication of its Implementation Strategy for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. This followed an “unprecedented effort” by 17 federal government bodies to work with 19 civil society organisations and research institutes and independent experts. They jointly supported the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy to identify national priorities and expedite implementation of Mexico’s international commitments. A new permanent coordination body, the Intersecretarial Commission for the Sustainable Management of Seas and Coasts (CIMARES) has been established with representation from the Navy and Secretaries of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Environment, Energy, Economy, Agriculture, Tourism, and Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development. This will be further strengthened by the work of a new voluntary Caucus, only the second Oceans Caucus worldwide, supported by government officials, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Community and Biodiversity AC, local legislators and fishermen.

At the UN Ocean Conference in June, Mexico’s President of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography expressed interest in developing ocean accounts, noting that the government is particularly interested in linking land ecosystem services and ocean ecosystem services because “we believe it is a continuum”. This kind of holistic approach to Blue Economy development and understanding, involving a multiplicity of stakeholders, illustrates the sheer size and complexity of the task but also bodes well for an equitable and sustainable national Blue Economy in the long run.

Like Mexico, Fiji is also a member of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP). All members of the HLP have committed to sustainably managing 100% of the area of ocean under their national jurisdictions and to achieving 30% marine protection by 2030.

In 2021, after extensive consultation with civil society organisations, community groups, ocean experts and individuals, Fiji published its National Oceans Policy 2020-2030, which “brings international best practices to the local level, creating an umbrella that captures the activities of multiple parties within the ocean space under one holistic framework.” Managed by the Climate Change and International Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Economy, the National Ocean Policy is overseen by a national steering committee with representatives from government ministries, NGOs, the private sector and two scientific advisors selected from Fiji’s universities. Fiji’s plan to mobilise resources includes national ocean budgeting, eliminating harmful fishing subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and promoting blue investment instruments. At COP26 the country announced it would issue a $50m sovereign blue bond, the development of which is being supported by the UK Blue Planet Fund, UNDP and the UN Capital Development Fund.

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Image credit: Commonwealth Blue Charter: Ocean Action Report June 2022.

In 2021, Antigua and Barbuda’s Department of Blue Economy launched their Maritime Economy Plan, in partnership with the UK Government, identifying strategic areas for further discussion and development. The Department which resides within the Ministry of Social Transformation and the Blue Economy serves as a focal coordination point, integrating the Blue Economy concept across government and driving the process of articulating a National Ocean Policy.

Together with Kenya, Antigua and Barbuda co-champions the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on the Sustainable Blue Economy, providing the country with further peer support and insights. The Commonwealth Blue Charter helps member countries meet their commitments towards a sustainable ocean by supporting them through capacity building, technical support and ten Action Groups convened around thematic areas of shared interest. Over the past four years 46 countries have cooperated to create ten Action Groups led by 16 co-champions.

Antigua and Barbuda’s relationship with the Commonwealth was further cemented in 2021 when it announced that a new Centre of Excellence in Oceanography and Blue Economy (COBE) would be established in the country, in partnership with the University of the West Indies and the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), a network of 500 universities worldwide. COBE will serve as a regional hub to build institutional capacity in marine science and the blue economy. As the Prime Minister remarked earlier this year, “given the fact that the nation of Antigua and Barbuda is such a vast ocean state and the growing interest in blue economy related subject areas, the establishment of the COBE is indeed very timely and advantageous.”

These three examples illustrate just how significant multilateral collaboration amongst the international community is in leveraging the Blue Economy to a higher level. Both the High Level Panel and the Commonwealth Blue Charter (CBC) are playing catalytic roles in accelerating implementation and ambition, informed by robust technical policy advice, through country peer-to-peer learning and, in the case of the CBC, capacity development. There is ample opportunity for the Multilateral Development Banks to get involved, potentially supporting these platforms by forming new Action Groups or contributing to them, to share learnings and plan ways to increase their impact. In the final article in this series, we will consider a range of opportunities for the MDBs to do more to support the Blue Economy.

 What is abundantly clear from these recent developments is that collaboration of all forms is key. "While actions to support economic growth, livelihoods and jobs are important, our foremost aim must be to address the ill effects of the misuse of our blue resources… a collaborative approach is key to a successful Sustainable Blue Economy, as the ocean is every nation’s responsibility” Honourable Minister Dean Jonas, Ministry of Social Transformation, Human Resources Development, and the Blue Economy, Antigua and Barbuda.

[i] Cisneros-Montemayor A.M., et al. 2021. “Enabling conditions for an equitable and sustainable blue economy.” Nature 396-401

[ii] Okafor-Yarwood I., et al. 2020. “The Blue Economy–Cultural Livelihood– Ecosystem Conservation Triangle: The African Experience.” Frontiers in Marine Science 586

[iii] Sumaila, U.R., Walsh, M., Hoareau, K. et al. Financing a sustainable ocean economy. Nat Commun 12, 3259 (2021).

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