Davos Agenda

How innovation and collaboration can transform ocean health

Restoring ocean health is an urgent issue.

Restoring ocean health is an urgent issue. Image: Unsplash.

Guo Jingjing
Olympic diving champion; Ambassador, Key Connect; Ocean Program Director, Global Green Technology Center (GGTC), China, Member of Friends of Ocean Action
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

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  • The ocean underpins the global economy and supports the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.
  • Stakeholders from business, government and civil society must join forces to support ocean health.
  • A collaborative approach can help scale-up ocean innovations and support the global economy.

The ocean, although big, beautiful and blue, is often unseen. It is often unheard, missing in pertinent discussions about the economy, society and even environmental matters. This despite the fact that the ocean holds 80% of life on Earth, provides the main protein source to over 3 billion people and supports millions of livelihoods in countless coastal communities around the world.

However, this is beginning to change. Activists, businesses, governments and stakeholders from every corner of society are joining the race for ocean health and this has resulted in some major breakthroughs.

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Three months ago, after 20 years of negotiations, governments finally agreed on the text of the High Seas Treaty. The high seas lie beyond national jurisdiction and this treaty lays out a comprehensive, responsible, and equitable framework to manage and care for the high seas. This was partly influenced by the successful adoption of 30x30, an ambitious commitment to protect 30% of terrestrial, coastal and ocean areas by 2030. A few years ago, it was not clear whether this would be feasible but last year, governments around the world agreed to officially include 30x30 in the Global Biodiversity Framework of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

We’ve also seen progress in other areas of ocean action. At last year’s UN Environment Assembly countries agreed to work towards an end to plastic pollution through the historic resolution to start negotiations for a treaty to curb plastic pollution. WTO members unanimously decided to end harmful fisheries subsidies after two decades of discussion deadlocks, and numerous other treaties and agreements.

All these victories serve as a great reminder of how far we’ve come and why we must keep pushing for ocean health. But there is still more to be done. Many of these landmark treaties and agreements will not enter into force unless they are officially ratified, adopted and implemented. This will require tangible ocean action not only from governments but also support from civil society, academia and business.

While these successes in multilateralism show a positive trend, restoring ocean health is such an urgent issue that we must continue to advocate for the treaties and international agreements needed, while ensuring that each of us is doing what we can to reverse ocean decline for good.

How can businesses take action on ocean health?

The business sector is critical and can unlock the investment required to advance solutions for the ocean and it is often a source of innovative solutions as well. As Ocean Programme Director for the China-based Global Green Technology Center, I have seen how innovation can provide us with the sustainability required to meet our needs in the present while feeding our hopes for a planet-friendly future.

UpLink Ocean is one programme working to identify, elevate and scale the most promising ocean innovations. For example, one UpLink Top Innovator in Hong Kong, Archireef, is trying to reverse the decline in coral reefs by 3D-printing terracotta clay tiles that mimic the shape of a species called brain coral. This simultaneously attracts marine life and encourages the growth of baby corals. Another great example is Advanced Navigation, which created an AI-powered underwater drone that can provide new sources of data and help us look into the 80% of the ocean that remains unexplored.

This week, the world’s leading thinkers are meeting in China for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions, under the theme “Entrepreneurship: The Driving Force of the Global Economy”. Now is the time to reflect on how we can break down silos and collectively take up a proactive, entrepreneurial spirit to help grow and scale the innovations we need for ocean health, which ultimately underpins the global economy.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

These innovations will need to be supported by funding. This is why it's exciting to see Ørsted become the world’s first energy company to issue a blue bond. This €100 million “blue bond” will fund ocean-based projects that have positive environmental, economic and climate benefits, including innovations that will scale-up new and improved measures to protect and restore marine and coastal biodiversity.

It is encouraging to see more businesses step up to invest in ocean-friendly innovations and push the nature-positive movement forward. While a lot of the treaties, policies and agreements previously mentioned were achieved by governments and international organizations, the work includes many stakeholder groups beyond this. For example, groups representing 150 seafood companies are calling on governments to ratify agreements against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seeing organizations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature provide resources and guidance to countries to assist them in ratifying the High Seas Treaty.

We talk about how the ocean is the blue thread that runs through all major facets of people, planet and prosperity. And I hope we can all join hands to weave this thread into the tapestry of our work, whatever the focus. We must finish the unfinished business of ocean action and while that requires robust global policies and treaties, we must recognize that ocean action is the business of everyone.

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Related topics:
Davos AgendaClimate and NatureOcean
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