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Catalyzing cooperation on the ‘Blue Economy’ in Asia

The oceans and seas are critical to sustaining life on Earth. Oceans produce more than half the oxygen in the atmosphere, absorb carbon, and hold 97 percent of the planet’s water. Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion annually (5 percent of global GDP). Oceans provide around 350 million jobs and food for over one billion people. But overfishing, pollution and climate change are putting unprecedented stress on marine ecosystems and affecting the services they provide.

Nowhere is the need to reverse these trends more pressing than in Asia, where the majority live along coasts and where it is estimated that more than three billion people depend on the sea’s resources. In the past 40 years, more than 40 percent of the region’s coral reefs and mangroves have disappeared, and unsustainable practices by Asia’s fishing fleet, the biggest in the world, are depleting the region’s fish stocks. Asia’s coastal areas are also recognized as among the most vulnerable to climate change.

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Recognizing the importance of healthy oceans to sustainable development, the goal to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” was adopted as Goal No. 14 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To implement this global goal, alongside promoting the “Blue Economy” Concept, it is essential that countries collaborate through various regional and international platforms.

The Blue Economy is a sustainable development framework which considers oceans as “development spaces” that provide benefits for current and future generations, while also ensuring that the integrity and functioning of coastal and ocean systems are maintained. It is based on principles of equity, low carbon development, resource efficiency, and social inclusion, and recognizes that oceans have a major role to play in humanity’s future.

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The development of a Blue Economy will demand new partnerships among stakeholders within and across countries, regions, subregions, international agencies and the private sector to facilitate greater flows of expertise, finance, and capacity to effectively close the gap in the sustainable management of both fisheries and nonliving sea resources. The private sector, in particular, needs to come forward.

The mobilization of greater cooperation around the Blue Economy concept, through South-South and Triangular Cooperation, is a foreign policy priority for the government of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh organized the first ever international workshop on the Blue Economy in Dhaka in September 2014, followed by a high-level panel discussion on the sidelines of the 71st session in Bangkok of the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Unescap).

Other countries in Asia such as India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam also put a strong emphasis on the Blue Economy and sustainable use of marine resources for inclusive growth. At last month’s Apec summit in Manila, the Philippine government hosted a high-level policy dialogue on food security and the Blue Economy, which focused on collective actions across Apec countries to sustainably manage coastal and marine resources for food security and inclusive economic growth.

Last October, the Bangladesh Embassy in Bangkok and the IUCN, or the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Asia, organized a thematic consultation on the Blue Economy and climate change resilience, where representatives of a number of countries in South and Southeast Asia were present. Among the countries represented were 11 from the Mangroves for the Future initiative cochaired by the IUCN and the UN Development Programme. The event provided a platform for participating countries to share initiatives toward securing a Blue Economy and to underscore the need for collaboration.

The world’s attention is focused on the climate talks in Paris, where the international community is forging a new agreement for the future of the planet. The oceans are central to stabilizing Earth’s climate by absorbing heat and carbon. But warming oceans are changing climate patterns and rising carbon dioxide levels are threatening many marine ecosystems through ocean acidification. The importance of healthy oceans for climate change mitigation and adaptation cannot be underestimated.

The oceans are a shared resource; therefore, a transboundary perspective is important. The process of laying down a vision for greater cooperation in Asia has started. The consultations in Bangkok last month can contribute to the momentum for creating partnerships, collaboration and common understanding that is required to further protect vital marine and coastal ecosystems across countries and regions.

Partnerships and collaborations are needed in the public and private sectors, at national and regional levels, to steer a sustainable Blue Economy in Asia, with special recognition of the needs of developing countries, and in line with existing global, regional and local commitments.

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Saida Muna Tasneem is Bangladesh’s ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia and its permanent representative to the Unescap. Aban Marker Kabraji is regional director of the IUCN.

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TAGS: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Asia, Blue Economy
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