The importance of the Blue Economy within the climate change debate received significant profile at the recent COP26 gathering in Glasgow, with the range of topics covered highlighting why its cross-cutting nature is now being taken seriously.
To feature just a few activities, the UN Environment Programme held an event focused on funding a sustainable Blue Economy; Lloyd’s Register Foundation led talks on sustainable supply chains in the Blue Economy; the EU’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries highlighted the role of the ocean in tackling climate change, couched within a broader Blue Economy framework; and Dr. Gene Leon, President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), took part in several high-level panels and launched a new CDB framework for measuring climate vulnerability and resilience that is more in tune with issues facing Large Ocean Nations (or Small Island Developing States). Multiple events on blue carbon and oceanic nature-based solutions were also hosted by various parties including Korea, Indonesia, the Nordic Council of Ministers, Seychelles, Australia and Scotland.
These cross-cutting issues were complemented by leaders from a wide range of countries highlighting the importance of Blue Economy initiatives to their citizens, economies and future environmental sustainability. Belize’s Minister of Blue Economy highlighted the threats from climate change to the country’s natural resources and the social and economic activities that rely upon them, as well as setting out the range of mitigating activities Belize is undertaking to implement, including supporting nature-based solutions. Antigua and Barbuda also held an event highlighting its own Blue Economy strategy and its role as co-champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter’s Sustainable Blue Economy Action Group.
Such profile for the importance of the Blue Economy within one of the world’s major decision-making fora is obviously welcome, but when the conference ended and national delegates returned home, the hard work to actively develop and embed Blue Economy strategies resumed around the globe. There are many potential starting points for how to initiate such work, but Barbados’ emerging approach is certainly one to watch.
“Barbados continues to offer leadership that is morally based and principle-driven”, Kirk Humphrey, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy commented during a recent interview on his vision for the country’s Blue Economy. Under his leadership the newly created Ministry has committed to protecting 30% of the country’s EEZ, equivalent to a new protected area 130 times larger than the country’s land area, whilst creating improved opportunities for fishers and other local people. Minister Humphrey’s focus on improving the dignity and profile of fishers within the country is taking shape in the form of newly upgraded fish landing and handling facilities around the country and financial support for fishers to buy boats via a lease-to-own programme.
Minister Humphrey further remarked that “leadership must be fair and fearless, and brave and balanced”, and that efforts to make ocean governance more holistic and effective, both nationally and in areas beyond national jurisdiction, required sustained political commitment and action. Such brave and balanced decision-making has been in recent evidence from the Minister when he recently discussed the reason for introducing new fishing restrictionsface-to-face with local fishers.
Sustained political vision and will
A decade ago, there was no roadmap for how to create a Blue Economy. In Seychelles, a pioneer in this sphere, the national Blue Economy movement grew steadily from the vision of President James Michel, who described in a recent webinar initiated by NLA International and hosted by Asian Development Bank how he set out to create a picture of how the Blue Economy could thrive in Seychelles, if things were done in a certain way. It is worth reflecting on the rich lessons President Michel had to share, to consider how many have relevance to emerging Blue Economy plans within the Caribbean and beyond.
President Michel revealed that he first of all had to win over his cabinet colleagues, then key stakeholders in fisheries and tourism, before taking the vision beyond Seychelles to the Southern African Development Community, where it was greeted initially with skepticism. Getting the Blue Economy on the agenda of the African Union was not easy at the time, he said, but stood out as a key milestone.
Driven by passion and conviction, these sustained efforts by James Michel to raise awareness of the potential of the Blue Economy and to create a shared vision which sparks innovation continue to this day. Now member states of the African Union anticipate their Blue Economy sectors and components will generate value of USD405 billion, creating 57 million jobs, by 2030. To realise this enormous potential, “political participation is a key factor” notes the President of the African Marine Environment Sustainability Initiative, as she spoke at the 3rd Annual symposium last month.
Such bold Blue Economy leadership is now far more evident in many parts of the world. Clear, consistent and sustained Blue Economy advocacy from senior government officials to secure inward investment and maintain momentum on the Blue Economy is now underway in Zanzibar, for example, whilst in India officials are highlighting the broader socio-economic benefits for the nation to encourage social traction.
A wiser and kinder approach
“We need to move away from values, frames and worldviews of marketisation, consumerism and national self-interest and growth, and rather move towards values, frames and worldviews of well-being, sustainability and the global commons.” This was one reflection from a participant in the Blue Economy Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) led by the University of Seychelles’ James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute in 2020 and 2021, in collaboration with the Commonwealth of Learning and the One Ocean Hub. Participants in the MOOC explored the cross-disciplinary nature and components of the Blue Economy and numbered more than 1,500 from various continents, 46% of them women.
The Blue Economy is a conservation and regeneration strategy by design that strives to ingrain sustainable approaches in the development of future activities in the marine environment. Significant commitments have been made to protect more of the ocean, with 107 countries pledging to protect 30% of the marine environment by 2030 and more pledges made at COP26. These new marine protected areas (MPAs) need to be well designed, implemented and resourced to achieve their conservation goals. The new MPA Guidelaunched in September supports those charged with implementing MPAs and enables all interested parties to transparently gauge the overall levels of protection in place across the world’s ocean. These are important steps towards consistently tracking and measuring the coverage and success of MPAs over time.
Advanced Earth Observation technologies can help to build a consistent picture of potential impacts on the marine environment and coastal zone, to accelerate interventions and guide longer-term preventative strategies. For example, satellite-derived data on shoreline change is being fused with other datasets to generate coastal vulnerability maps in West Africa, supporting policy initiatives to address the impacts of climate change on the coast whilst also contributing to regional Blue Economy agendas.
International collaborations continue to form around marine data. Ten EU projects focused on building ocean observation systems in order to support evidence-based management of the Blue Economy recently combined to form a cluster called “Nourishing Blue Economy and Sharing Ocean Knowledge”. The collaboration recently launched a joint policy brieftowards developing the research infrastructure for the “big science” of ocean observing, which cannot be accomplished by any individual nation acting alone and which is so fundamental to an evidence-led Blue Economy.
A whole of society approach
In his recent webinar, President Michel was also keen to point out that a successful Blue Economy has to be wholly inclusive, and that there can be no exceptions to the adoption of Blue Economy principles, if strategies are to thrive. A recent study involving policymakers in Indonesiapresents an interesting framework to guide governments in how they can support maritime businesses in coastal states to implement Blue Economy principles and achieve all relevant SDGs. Principle-led frameworks such as this and UNEP FI’s Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principlesprovide the shared foundation from which public and private sector actors can create rules and guidelines for best practice in the Blue Economy.
Actionable frameworks can involve more than one nation, such as the Unleashing the Blue Economy in the Caribbean project, financed by the World Bank, which is designed to strengthen the enabling environment for the Blue Economy and to enhance resilience of selected coastal infrastructure in and across Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. The project focuses on three key sectors: tourism; fisheries and aquaculture; and waste management. The most recent stage of the project was launched last month when four framework documents were shared for public consultation, each of them detailing how the project proposes managing the various components which affect local people, their livelihoods and the nation.
“A marine/aquatic business cannot be considered Blue Economy if it does not minimise its negative impacts on the environment, does not have an inclusive ownership structure, and does not maximise the creation of jobs," according to the Deputy Executive Director of Fisheries in Namibia. The Ministry official invited all Namibians to help shape the country’s Blue Economy strategy and governance frameworks through a countrywide outreach programme. A chief scientist at the fisheries ministry ventured further that the needs of the most marginalised in society would be prioritised under the new national Blue Economy policy.
In partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank and others, the Government of Tobago is adopting a novel approach to attracting local engagement in its Blue Economy by requesting nominations for local Blue Experiences or Entrepreneurs to feature in a new communication campaign supporting the country’s Blue Economy articulation and development.
A call for a new cross-sectoral partnership between the fishing industry, government, aid partners, civil society and NGOs to create sustainable ocean governance practices was made last month by the National Fisheries Association of Ghana, noting that the lack of such mechanisms affects not only fishing but other sectors of the Blue Economy, including ocean transport; oil and gas; tourism; and others. In particular the Government is requested to engage widely to formulate a comprehensive plan to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing within both industrial fisheries and artisanal fisheries.
Several countries recognise the importance of educating the next generation on the Blue Economy. In Barbados for instance, the Blue Economy will feature in the school curriculum and this year Namibia initiated its Blue Schools network to foster ocean literacy, starting with schools in two coastal regions of Namibia. In Nigeria, over 3,000 girls from senior secondary schools joined a three-day capacity building programme on IT in the maritime transport and logistics sectors, supported by Unity Bank Plc.
It is clear that many approaches are emerging to foster and lock in shared ownership and management of the Blue Economy. As Grenada’s Minister for Sports, Culture and the Arts, Fisheries and Co-operatives confirmed at a recent regional event, “the task of sustainably developing the Blue Economy requires an interdisciplinary and cross-governmental approach.”
Every day we write the book
The Blue Economy is a work in progress; some countries such as Namibia and Tobago are setting the vision and governance whilst others such as Barbados and Liberia are putting Blue Economy principles into practice. “Watching the content evolve as experts pushed themselves to explore the complex nature of the Blue Economy” was one of the most rewarding aspects of the Seychelles MOOC for its programme lead, Kelly Hoareau, Director of the Blue Economy Research Institute at the University of Seychelles.
Authentically realising the Blue Economy is a matter for all world nations. This declaration by the Prime Minister of Fiji on the eve of COP26 encapsulated it perfectly: “We want islands inhabited by citizens who stand with nature and not against it. We want sustainable economic growth that is powered by clean energy and protected from the impacts of climate change. We want robust and resilient health systems, and we want good jobs and income supported by a green and Blue Economy”.
This new world vision requires an unwavering commitment to uphold the values and principles that the Blue Economy approach embodies, a need so eloquently articulated by Kirk Humphrey from Barbados.
In a white paper for World Oceans Day 2021, NLA International proposed that an authentic Blue Economy is built on approaches that are regenerative in conserving and restoring the vitality of the ocean environment; adaptive to a changing climate, new knowledge and new ways of working; inclusive of all stakeholders, especially those who depend most on ocean resources; sustainable environmentally, socially and economically; and evidence-led, based on a holistic range of knowledge and data sources. These principles are being thoughtfully put into practice around the world. Blue Economies that follow these principles are most likely to RAISE the quality of marine and human life and of livelihoods.
The “Blue Doughnut” from NLAI’s white paper “The Blue Economy in Practice – Raising Lives and Livelihoods” - a proposed Blue Economy step-by-step approach which is regenerative, adaptive, inclusive, sustainable and evidence-led.
“A matter for the whole world…”
At the time looking ahead to the impending COP26 conference, and foreshadowing the encoraging range of Blue Economy-themed activities that were actually to follow at the event, President Michel was able to reflect during his webinar appearance on the progress that has been made in the past several years.
Looking back at the early stages of his Blue Economy journey, he commented, "For it to be successful, I had to take it further than Seychelles, because we could not do it alone. Taking the concept to one of the conferences in Southern Africa, I was looked at with some sort of apprehension: ‘What is he talking about?’”.
Which is a long way from where we are now, as President Michel was happily able to conclude: “Finally now, it has been accepted that the Blue Economy and climate change and all the other aspects linked to the oceans… is not only a matter for small island states, but is a matter for the whole world, for the planet.”