Lorna Inniss | We should incorporate blue economy approaches in COVID-19 recovery efforts
FOR OVER a year, Jamaica and the rest of the world have been grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Critical sectors such as tourism, fishing and other ocean-based activities suffered severe economic decline due to travel restrictions, lockdowns and curfews. But even before the pandemic, ocean-based economies were already under threat due to biodiversity loss, marine pollution and climate change, which in turn impact food security, livelihoods, and the well-being of humans and nature.
It is therefore critical that COVID-19 recovery efforts integrate strategies that address these existential challenges to our survival and to coastal and marine-based economies, by implementing practices to sustainably use and develop these resources.
According to a 2017 World Bank and United Nations report on The Potential of the Blue Economy, the blue economy concept “seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods, while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas.”
Speaking at the first global conference on the sustainable blue economy, held in Kenya in 2018, then Acting Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme, Joyce Msuya, explained that “by investing in ocean-based sustainable development, we can safeguard the environment, propel the blue economy to new heights, and ensure that communities and business all thrive”. Critical to our reflection of this three-fold opportunity is our own survival - every second breath we breathe comes from the ocean.
Any type of coastal or marine-based business activity may be considered blue economy, as it occurs within the ‘blue’ (ocean) space. Major ocean sectors such as tourism, shipping, fishing, aquaculture and marine renewable energy collectively contribute to a blue economy. In the shipping industry, for example, what turns blue economy into ‘sustainable’ blue economy is the ‘greening’ of activities of ships and ports. This means implementing sustainable practices, such as managing the levels of greenhouse gas emissions coming from ships and port incinerators, or addressing the discharge of pollutants from ships into near shore waters, in accordance with the standards set by the UN International Maritime Organization. Implementing environmentally friendly practices (greening) therefore provides an avenue towards ‘sustainable blue economy’.
Tourism is by far the principal blue economy industry of the wider Caribbean. Approximately 80 to 90 per cent of tourism was lost to the region because of the pandemic, affecting national revenues, national debt payments, livelihoods and households. The Bridgetown Declaration, signed at the recent meeting of regional ministers of environment, calls for the integration of environmental issues to be placed at the heart of the region’s COVID-19 recovery strategies. The declaration further stresses support for economic sectors that rely on the sustainable use of natural resources, while also protecting travellers, workers and biodiversity.
HOW DO WE BUILD BACK BETTER?
Caribbean countries have been implementing the blue economy concept for decades. What is missing from our approach is this sustainability element. In fact, Caribbean states joined the global community and agreed that the blue economy approach should consider economic development in parallel with the sustainable use and development of ocean and marine resources.
Restoration and conservation of coral reefs, mangrove swamps, seagrass beds, coastal woodlands and clean, nearshore marine waters should all be part of the national tourism product marketing and policy. Within the tourism recovery efforts, stakeholders can turn this major blue economy sector into a sustainable driver of economic growth by ensuring that important biodiversity assets are protected by the same users who are enjoying them.
Another important issue is that of food security. The recobery response from the pandemic should also incorporate measures to protect the fisheries sector and the livelihoods of fishing communities. This includes controlling global fisheries subsidies, stringent regulation to manage the overexploitation of fishes, and protecting small-scale fishers against large factory ships that operate in the region. In reviewing fisheries as a sustainable blue economy activity, there is an opportunity to ensure that marine habitats on which the fish depend are healthy, fishers are trained in reducing by-catch, marine litter is addressed, and that juvenile fish, especially those in sargassum mats, are not deliberately targeted.
Additionally, the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) at the core of the Paris Agreement outlines each country’s efforts to keep national emission levels below 1.5oC. Greenhouse gases are the main sources of air pollution, and while the ocean acts as a reservoir to lower the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, human activity is increasing CO2 levels and pressuring the ocean’s ability to perform this natural function. The region must play its part in contributing to the reduction of global emissions on one hand, while simultaneously creating significant national savings through the use of alternative energy.
National blue economy sectors should align with, and be incorporated into, the NDC. Sustainability tools such as ecosystem-based management, marine spatial planning, integrated watershed and coastal zone management that are already utilised in the national blue economy framework should be mainstreamed.
SUPPORTING SUSTAINABLE BLUE ECONOMIES
The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention) is the only regional legal agreement that aims to protect and sustainably develop the marine and coastal resources of the Caribbean Sea.
The Cartagena Convention Secretariat is uniquely positioned to support Jamaica and the 27 other countries bordering the Caribbean Sea to develop their blue economy approaches. Our strengths are evident in the areas of capacity development, knowledge management, and support for national policy redress for a sustainable blue economy. Piloting new approaches benefits all, as the Conference of Parties to the Convention presents a platform for the exchange of best practices and lessons learned.
As countries draft their recovery plans, a long-term vision is needed to allow this sustainability focus to be firmly embedded into national policies and plans. The adjustment towards a sustainable blue economy will take time, even with the impressive suite of partnerships existing across the region. It is imperative that national dialogue is opened to develop this sustainable blue economy framework, transforming economies into prosperity for everyone – leaving no one behind.
Dr Lorna Inniss is the principal coordination officer of the United Nations Environment Programme Cartagena Convention Secretariat. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.