Climate Action

Can capitalism save ocean conservation?

Chris Knight
Nathalie Chalmers
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There is a pressing need – and an opportunity – for innovative public and private investment in ocean conservation and the responsible husbandry of marine resources. A landmark study brought forward by the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has documented at least US$ 50 billion in lost benefits that could be recouped every year from better organization and management of marine fishing.

Aquaculture has provided nearly all of the growth in global fish production over recent decades. It will continue to expand to provide a critical source of future food security if it can avoid driving a massive crisis of coastal and marine degradation. Coastal tourism is also rapidly growing, providing potential for new livelihood in some of the world’s neediest places – but also carrying with it potential for the destruction of the natural beauty so many tourists seek. A new frontier of mineral and energy extraction must be approached with appropriate international regulation and sustainable commercial practices.

In all of these oceans-based economic sectors, leading businesses already recognize the link between sustainability and profitability. The evolution of regulatory systems, consumer demand and investment practices are all creating opportunities for businesses to help lead change rather than respond to it.

However, to drive change at the scale required, a multistakeholder dialogue will be instrumental in highlighting the role of business in sound ocean management and the positive impact this could have. Through consultation with scientists, members of civil society and political decision-makers, business leaders will be able to develop informed answers to some of their most fundamental questions:

  • Where in product lifecycles are the issues that will affect our ability to grow and succeed?
  • Which external initiatives should we be tracking or participating in?
  • What partnerships might deliver strategic benefits for our business?
  • How can we get clear facts on the risks and the “costs of doing nothing”?
  • How do we define “corporate ocean responsibility”?

Until recently, the interaction between companies and the scientific community on oceans management  has been largely unproductive, at times even hostile, but it is clear that businesses alone cannot answer these questions. Ocean experts and concerned stakeholders need to work more closely with companies, especially forward-looking ones, to ensure that the natural assets which the oceans contain provide an ecologically and economically sustainable source of income. That said, there are a growing number of positive examples of companies, equipped with the right information and external support, making the transition from unsustainable to sustainable harvesting and extraction practices.

We hope that in the near future, greater multistakeholder engagement will enable efforts to move beyond a patchwork-based approach and foster the systemic solutions needed to help sustain this essential global resource

Authors: Chris Knight is Assistant Director, Sustainability and Climate Change, PwC, United Kingdom. Nathalie Chalmers is, Senior Programme Associate, Sustainability and Environment, Global Agenda Council on Oceans, World Economic Forum

For further questions or comments, please contact: oceans@weforum.org

Pictured: A refrigerated fish transport ship lies off the Calabrian coast in southern Italy REUTERS/Tony Gentile

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