The wealth we must tap
Our economic relationship with the ocean is once again evolving in important ways. As a setting for global trade and commerce, and as a significant source of food and energy, the ocean’s contribution is already important. This century, it is likely to become an economic force. The drivers are many and varied, but have their origins in our growing familiarity with the ocean environment; new technologies that make it feasible and economically viable to tap ocean resources; longer-term growth and demographic trends fuelling; the search for food security and for alternative sources of minerals and energy; seaborne trade and rapid coastal urbanisation, among others.
Humanity’s relationship with the oceans, and how people use and exploit their resources, is evolving in important ways. While the oceans are increasingly becoming a source of food, energy, and products such as medicines and enzymes, there is also now a better understanding of the non-market goods and services that the oceans provide.
Oceans and seas cover over two-thirds of Earth’s surface, contribute to poverty eradication by creating sustainable livelihoods and decent work, provide food and minerals, generate oxygen, absorb greenhouse gases and mitigate the impacts of climate change, determine weather patterns and temperatures, and serve as highways for seaborne international trade. With an estimated 80 percent of the volume of world trade carried by sea, international shipping and ports provide crucial linkages in global supply chains and are essential for the ability of all countries to gain access to global markets.
The “blue economy” concept seeks to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and create employment opportunities in maritime economic activities. It also promotes social inclusion, and preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability.
Origin and Evolution
Gunter Pauli’s book, “The Blue Economy: 10 years, 100 innovations, 100 million jobs” (2010) brought the Blue Economy concept into the limelight. It has emerged as a term referring to a healthy ocean, supporting higher productivity. The current focus is confined to marine products, including minerals, as if this is all it concerns. The concept, however, is much broader and encompasses even maritime activities, such as shipping services.
Although the term “blue economy” has been used in different ways, it is understood here as comprising the range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of oceanic resources is sustainable. An important challenge of the blue economy is thus to understand and better manage the many aspects of oceanic sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health to pollution. A second significant issue is the realization that the sustainable management of ocean resources requires collaboration across nation-states and across the public-private sectors, and on a scale that has not been previously achieved. This realization underscores the challenge facing the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as they turn to better managing their blue economies.
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. At its core it refers to the decoupling of socioeconomic development through oceans-related sectors and activities from environmental and ecosystems degradation. It draws from scientific findings that ocean resources are limited and that the health of the oceans has drastically declined due to anthropogenic activities. These changes are already being profoundly felt, affecting human well-being and societies, and the impacts are likely to be amplified in the future, especially in view of projected population growth.
The blue economy has diverse components, including established traditional ocean industries such as fisheries, tourism, and maritime transport, but also new and emerging activities, such as offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, seabed extractive activities, and marine biotechnology and bioprospecting. A number of services provided by ocean ecosystems, and for which markets do not exist, also contribute significantly to economic and other human activity such as carbon sequestration, coastal protection, waste disposal and the existence of biodiversity.
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