Tides of change: Innovating Asean’s blue economy | Inquirer Opinion

Tides of change: Innovating Asean’s blue economy

Ocean and freshwater systems, including rivers, lakes, and oceans, form vital ecosystems that are crucial for human survival and prosperity. They play a pivotal role in sustaining life on a large scale and offer solutions to challenges like poverty, food insecurity, climate change, and conflict.

The blue economy’s global impact is remarkable, with its contribution to the economy projected to double from $1.5 trillion in 2010 to $3 trillion by 2030, creating 43 million jobs across sectors like fishing, aquaculture, tourism, and research. This growth trajectory positions the blue economy as a key driver of sustainable economic development and global prosperity.

The Asean region includes countries with extensive territorial waters covering over 60 percent of the total area. Nine out of the 10 Asean countries border the sea and the region boasts a diverse array of marine resources that significantly contribute to the global economy.

Despite being landlocked, Laos, the current chair of Asean, enriches this tapestry with its abundant freshwater resources, further enhancing the region’s diverse development potential.


Recognizing the vast promise of the blue economy, Asean leaders took a significant step in 2021 by adopting the Asean Leader’s Declaration on the Blue Economy in Brunei Darussalam. This landmark declaration aims to transform and diversify the region’s economies, envisioning the blue economy as a catalyst for more sustainable growth and development.

Subsequently, the Asean Blue Economy Framework was adopted under Indonesia’s Asean chairmanship in 2023, serving as a comprehensive guide to harnessing and managing marine ecosystem sustainably for the benefit of the region’s people. Nevertheless, Asean member states face a multitude of challenges, which must be addressed to protect and optimally manage their blue resources for the benefit of their people.

Issues like overfishing, habitat degradation, and marine pollution not only threaten the region’s marine ecosystem but also impact freshwater resources. The deterioration of essential habitats, including coral reefs and mangroves, not only disrupts biodiversity but also undermines the long-term sustainability of both marine and freshwater resources.

Governance issues, such as the need for rules-based management of maritime and water resources as well as inadequate infrastructure, coupled with technological and human resource constraints, further compound these challenges, underscoring the urgent need for collaborative efforts to address them.


At the heart of addressing these persistent development challenges lies the transformative power of innovative solutions. To cultivate a thriving economy within the Asean region, an emphasis on innovation across science, technology, and pragmatic business models for start-ups and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) has emerged as a cornerstone for progress.

Furthermore, concerted efforts and regional cooperation is indispensable for addressing such challenges and advancing the blue economy in the Asean region. An exemplary demonstration of this collaborative spirit is showcased through the project, Enabling Blue Innovation Solutions for Asean’s Blue Economic Growth, including through Nurturing Start-ups and MSMEs, or the Asean Blue Economy Innovation project for short.


This new Asean project also builds on Japan’s unwavering dedication to ocean sustainability as underlined in its MARINE Initiative, a comprehensive program aimed at combating marine plastic pollution on a global scale.

Likewise, over the past 25 years, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has emerged as a leading advocate for ocean protection, restoration, climate change mitigation, and sustainable economic growth on a global scale. Having mobilized more than $1 billion for ocean protection and restoration efforts in over 100 countries, UNDP is steadfast in its commitment to promoting a sustainable global blue economy that harnesses ocean and freshwater resources for inclusive development.

To propel these visions forward together, we have launched the Asean Blue Innovation Challenge as part of the new Asean Blue Economy Innovation project in all 10 Asean countries and Timor-Leste.

The Asean Blue Innovation Challenge stands as a conduit for private entrepreneurs, inventors, academics, and researchers to collectively drive change through sustainable solutions. Designed to spark innovation, this initiative will offer each of the 60 winning innovators and entrepreneurs up to $40,000 of financial award as well as incubation support.

Innovation in the blue economy used to be challenging, but successes are emerging. In Southeast Asia’s coastal communities, stories of empowerment and innovation are converging to shape a brighter future. The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network


Satvinder Singh is Asean deputy secretary general for Asean Economic Community; Kiya Masahiko is ambassador of Japan to Asean; and Kanni Wignaraja is United Nations assistant secretary general and UNDP regional director for Asia and the Pacific.


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