Davos Agenda

5 reasons why the G20 needs a sustainable blue economy

Blue economy ... coastal ecosystems sequester as much as five times the amount of carbon as terrestrial forests.

Blue economy ... coastal ecosystems sequester as much as five times the amount of carbon as terrestrial forests. Image: REUTERS/David Gray

Luhut B. Pandjaitan
Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia
Andrew Forrest
Chair, Minderoo Foundation, Australia; Member of Friends of Ocean Action
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Ocean-based climate solutions should be a critical part of the G20's COVID-19 recovery plans.
  • "The blue economy" can create jobs, spur economic growth, mitigate the impacts of climate change and help meet the food needs of a growing global population.
  • From sustainable fisheries to maritime renewable energies, there are five crucial areas where the G20 would benefit from investing in the ocean.

The G20 has vowed to rebuild the global economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and to fight climate change by investing in sustainable development. Yet one of the most powerful tools available to achieve these goals is largely missing from national economic recovery plans: ocean-based climate solutions.

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The ocean has tremendous potential to spur economic growth, create jobs and mitigate some of the most severe climate impacts if we protect it and use its resources sustainably. This is often referred to as “the blue economy”.

For instance, it is estimated the world’s wetlands alone provide $47 trillion worth of ecological services annually, services such as coastal flood defences, carbon sequestration and breeding grounds for commercial fish, and support at least 1 billion jobs. But climate change, habitat destruction and plastic pollution – to name just a few problems – threaten to undermine their ecological integrity and destroy a remarkably effective buffer against some of the most severe climate change impacts.

A similar story is playing out on the ocean’s coral reefs and in our global fisheries. So-called “blue” food (food from the ocean and other aquatic sources) offers immense potential to help meet the food needs of a growing population in a way that is nutritious, sustainable, equitable and affordable. To do so successfully requires a concerted effort from the global community to ensure that fishing is sustainable.

The G20, which comprises 45% of the world’s coastline and 21% of its exclusive economic zones, has a special obligation to protect marine ecosystems and is well-positioned to deploy ocean-based climate solutions as the world continues its post-pandemic recovery.

Creating a blue economy

There are five crucial areas where the G20 would benefit from investments in ocean-based climate action to create a blue economy:

1. Maritime renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind, floating solar arrays and wave and tidal power, hold enormous promise to build energy independence and help countries meet their emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

2. We must decarbonize global shipping. If this industrial sector were a country, it would be the world’s eighth-largest in terms of carbon emissions. The good news is that emerging technologies can vastly reduce emissions from vessels and port facilities. The international community needs to set new standards to ensure best practices are implemented evenly around the world.

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3. Coastal wetlands and ecosystems – such as salt marshes, seagrass meadows, coral reefs and mangrove forests – need urgent protection in order to maintain their critical environmental services. It is estimated that these ecosystems sequester as much as five times the amount of carbon as terrestrial forests per unit area while shielding coastal populations from increasingly powerful storms and sea-level rise.

4. Investing in sustainable fisheries and, in particular, aquaculture will create well-paid jobs and help promote food security and economic fairness, especially in developing countries.

5. Sustainable and regenerative tourism can form a critical building block in ensuring a lasting economic recovery for coastal nations in a way that supports the ocean and nature – and the countless people who depend on them.

A 2021 report by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy found that ocean-based climate and nature-based solutions such as these could collectively reduce around 4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2030 and more than 11 billion tonnes by 2050 – equivalent to closing all the world’s coal-fired power plants for a year.

Mangrove Conservation and Restoration: Protecting Indonesia’s “Climate Guardians”
As the G20 president, Indonesia must work to restore mangroves and wetlands Image: World Bank

Even modest investments in these solutions to create a sustainable blue economy would go a long way toward achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water), including gender equity and fair access to the economic benefits of the world’s marine resources.

As this year’s G20 president and host of the group’s next leaders’ summit in November, Indonesia must lead by example, making major investments in marine and coastal ecosystem governance, promoting equal economic access, reducing marine debris, and working to restore and conserve mangrove and other wetlands.

Indonesia, Australia and all other G20 countries must expand these efforts and increase collaboration, to further strengthen and implement a robust and sustainable global blue economy that benefits everyone.

General (Ret.) Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan is Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment for Indonesia, which is this year’s G20 President and host of the group’s 17th Heads of State and Government Summit in November.

Dr Andrew Forrest AO is Founder and Chair of the Minderoo Foundation, Australia, and a Member of Friends of Ocean Action at the World Economic Forum.

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