Nature and Biodiversity

A sustainable path to lasting recovery for Small Island Developing States lies in the ocean and the building of a robust blue economy

Britain's Prince Charles and his entourage sit in a glass bottomed boat as they watch divers near the coral reef off Castaway Island, Fiji.

Britain's Prince Charles and his entourage sit in a glass bottomed boat as they watch divers near the coral reef off Castaway Island, Fiji. Image: REUTERS

Shiri Krishna Gounder
Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Economy, Government of Fiji
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  • Reliant on tourism and trade, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were among the hardest hit globally by the economic impact of COVID-19.
  • Fiji and other SIDS could bounce back from the pandemic by building a sustainable blue economy that makes the most of their oceanic geography.
  • The Blue Recovery Hubs initiative, of which Fiji is a key participant, will examine SIDS to identify ocean-based and sustainable opportunities for growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic was, and in many parts of the world remains, a major health, social and economic crisis without modern precedent.

For the vast majority of people globally, it had negative impacts on freedoms, exacerbated hunger and poverty, and tested both political will and social and environmental resilience. The impacts of COVID-19 reverberated around the world, but the most critical impacts were felt in developing nations.

COVID-19 in Small Island Developing States

Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in particular, suffered an unprecedented economic impact, with GDP contraction in 2020 estimated at 7.1% in SIDS, compared to 4.4% in other developing countries. SIDS were heavily affected by pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions, because many are economically dependent on the tourism and fisheries sectors.

In Fiji, for example, the tourism sector prior to the pandemic made up 38.9% of the country’s GDP. To an undiversified economy — such as those observed in many SIDS — events like the pandemic highlight the precarious state of national economies. And it is not just through the loss of tourism.

Fiji’s fisheries are the country’s third-largest export in terms of profit, but trade channels to move tuna to consumer markets were limited as vessels became less reliable and commercial flights that carry trade goods almost completely halted. Fiji’s economy contracted 15.7% in the first year of COVID-19, largely driven by these pandemic-driven sectoral impacts.

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant harm and disruption, but it also provided an opportunity to step back and consider how to move forward: adopt the same development pathways that are accumulating more risk — or commit to building more sustainable economic development pathways, and pursue them as a stable foundation for growth?

The ocean has untapped potential for sustainable development, as highlighted by research commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy — Ocean Panel — which showed that every $1 invested in the sustainable ocean economy will return $5 over a 30-year period.

While Fiji focuses now on its recovery, it is looking to harness the ocean to drive a blue recovery and build out the policies and economic structures required to ensure the sustainable management of our ocean. Through the Ocean Panel and other platforms, we are also trying to lead other countries in the same direction.

Fiji's commitments for a sustainable ocean

Specifically, our commitment to a sustainable ocean is upheld by five key components:

1. Our National Ocean Policy, which is a guide to establishing a sustainable blue economy by 2030. A sustainable blue economy depends on conserving and managing the ocean in a way that drives economic growth, ensures healthy marine ecosystems and supports coastal communities.

2. Our Climate Change Act, which declares a climate emergency and creates the legal basis to support Fiji’s sustainable development objectives, build a net-zero economy by 2050 and achieve the National Ocean Policy.

3. A commitment, alongside the 15 other members of the Ocean Panel, to sustainably manage 100% of the ocean area within our national boundaries and to developing a sustainable ocean economy based on effective ecosystem management, sustainable marine production and equitable economic growth.

4. A moratorium on seabed mining at least through the end of 2030, to better understand the potentially irreparable consequences of such behaviour.

5. Pursing new partnerships, financing instruments and sustainably-focused business models that protect and adapt our ocean ecosystems.

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Blue Recovery Hubs

One such partnership for the development of a blue economy is the Blue Recovery Hubs (BRH) — a joint initiative between the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Friends of Ocean Action and the Sustainable Development Impact Partnership at the World Economic Forum, of which Fiji is the first Hub.

The BRH initiative seeks to support countries in accelerating their economic recovery by enhancing the long-term sustainability of existing ocean economy sectors and generating new, sustainable opportunities that can lead to economic diversification and act as an SDG multiplier across multiple economic and social areas.

As part of the BRH, a new report is being launched during the Second United Nations Ocean Conference (27 June-1 July, Lisbon, Portugal), which provides a comprehensive assessment of our ocean economy before and during covid, “Towards a Blue Recovery in Fiji: COVID-19 appraisal report.”

The findings of the appraisal report identify a number of ocean sectors that provide opportunities for more resilient and sustainable development. As we work with the BRH team toward the next phase, these opportunities will be explored in-depth to understand the major limitations to investment and the key opportunities to overcome barriers to growth.

This collaboration provides a means to ultimately pursue the diversification and sustainable development of the ocean economy, achieving core goals of the National Ocean Policy and commitments as a member of the Ocean Panel.

As Fijians, we are fully committed to pursuing a blue recovery driven by securing the sustainable management of our precious ocean resources to achieve a lasting blue recovery that serves our people as much as preserving a robust marine environment for generations to come.

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

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