Nature and Biodiversity

Why the ocean holds the key to sustainable development

A hammerhead shark swims close to Wolf Island at Galapagos Marine Reserve August 19, 2013. Picture taken August 19, 2013

To meet the SDGs we must harness the oceans' full potential, argues Erna Solberg Image: REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Erna Solberg
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Future of the Environment

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

It is only 12 years until 2030, the deadline for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The world has set itself an ambitious task. To reach the SDGs we will have to produce more from the oceans. We need the oceans to provide more food, more jobs and more energy. And we must maintain its capacity to regulate the climate and support biodiversity.

These are all reasons to manage the oceans better. To build a sustainable ocean economy, we must stop the degradation of the world’s marine ecosystems and improve the environmental status of the oceans. This will require action from all of us.

The oceans run like a ‘blue thread’ throughout Norwegian history. Sustainable use of the oceans has laid the foundation for Norway’s prosperity and the welfare of our population. Our ocean industries account for more than 70% of Norway's exports.

We firmly believe that the oceans hold the key to solving many of the most challenging tasks facing the world today. Eradicating hunger and extreme poverty by 2030. Fighting disease and pandemics. Combating climate change. Creating jobs in both developed and developing countries. Ensuring affordable and clean energy for all. Even securing peace and stability.


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The Norwegian Government has launched an ambitious ocean strategy that includes both national and global elements. It involves green technology, digitalization, innovative uses of marine resources, international diplomacy, and the fight against illegal fishing and plastic pollution. Research and knowledge are crucial factors.

The success of this strategy will depend on whether we can continue to combine the knowledge we have built up over the years with innovation and research. We have done it before. When Norway first discovered oil in the North Sea in 1969, we knew very little about the petroleum industry. But thanks to centuries of contact with the oceans and experience of shipping, shipbuilding and managing natural resources, we learned how to produce oil and gas in a prudent manner.

And thanks, not least, to expertise and technology developed in the North Sea, Norwegian shipyards have already built the world's first gas-powered and all-electric ferries and the first electric fishing vessels.

Our most experienced oil and gas companies are at the forefront of efforts to develop emission-reducing technology. They are creating jobs while at the same time solving global problems. In addition, carbon emissions from their traditional business of oil and gas production are being cut to levels that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

Our experience is that following green policies does not lead companies into red figures.

Norway has been pursuing integrated, ecosystem-based management of its sea areas for many years. This science-based approach safeguards biodiversity and ensures sustainable use of resources.

We have shown that it is fully possible to combine ocean-based industries such as fisheries, aquaculture, shipping and energy production with a healthy marine environment.

In the Barents Sea, science-based management and close fisheries cooperation between Russia and Norway have been a resounding success. Today, the cod stock in the Barents Sea is the world’s largest and most valuable.

Norwegian exports of seafood are increasing year by year. They include seafood from innovative fish farms that did not exist 40 years ago, as well as seafood from traditional fisheries – and both are produced sustainably.

 Achieving SDG 14 is essential for meeting a number of the other goals
Achieving SDG 14 is essential for meeting a number of the other goals Image: Nereus Program

Today, only 5% of global food consumption comes from the oceans. This share must be increased if we are to reach our global goal of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty. We must use the untapped potential of the oceans for food, for medicines and as a source of energy.

More than ever, we depend on healthy oceans to meet our need for more jobs, more resources and good health.

But if we are to use the seas to improve our own health, we must first address the threats to the health of the oceans: climate change, marine litter and pollution, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and the loss of habitats and biodiversity. In the short time since you started reading this article, another 100 tonnes of plastic will probably have ended up in the sea.

The oceans have a huge capacity to regulate the climate and to support biodiversity. We must act now if we want to keep it that way.

In order to move from insight to investment, and then from investment to results, I have invited 11 world leaders to join me in the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The aim of the panel is to build a new, shared understanding of the state of the ocean economy and ecology, and to generate a set of recommendations for building a global and sustainable ocean economy. Our goal is to promote science-based decision-making in protecting the oceans and optimising our use of them.

The panel will present a roadmap for the transition to a sustainable ocean economy, and will report to the UN Ocean Conference next year.

Science-based integrated management will be the main theme of the sixth Our Ocean Conference in Oslo in October. Dealing with global challenges and making full use of the potential of the sea will also be at the top of our agenda if Norway succeeds in its quest for a seat on the UN Security Council from 2021 to 2022.

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The Law of the Sea contributes to peace and stability because it clarifies which states have the right to exploit resources in a given part of the ocean, and it spurs action because those who have rights also have obligations to protect the ocean and its resources.

The SDGs highlight the enormous potential of the oceans. Achieving goal 14, on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and life below water, is essential for reaching a number of the other goals.

There is still a great deal we do not know about the oceans, but we know enough to act. We invite other countries to join us in taking the necessary steps.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityGlobal CooperationSustainable Development
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