Davos Agenda

3 lessons on how we can work together to restore ocean health

Several risk factors severely threaten ocean health, including warming waters, overfishing, expansion of coastal infrastructure and pollution.

Several risk factors severely threaten ocean health, including warming waters, overfishing, expansion of coastal infrastructure and pollution. Image: REUTERS/Gerardo Garcia (MEXICO - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Alfredo Giron
Head of Ocean, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Davos Agenda

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  • The ocean has a huge impact on the world, including health, the global economy and climate change.
  • Several risk factors severely threaten ocean health, including warming waters, overfishing, expansion of coastal infrastructure and pollution.
  • Governments have committed to ocean sustainability but broader coalitions can demonstrate much more powerful impacts in restoring ocean health.

The ocean is everywhere, even when we don’t see it. It connects us all – through weather and oxygen, food and fishing, carbon absorption and heat buffering, tourism and trade. And it knows nothing of borders and boundaries or how people organize societies and human life on Earth. It simply is.

The term “blue economy” – related to marine activities – is increasingly becoming a buzzphrase – and for good reason. The ocean is the engine for the global economy through shipping routes and job opportunities, the food provider for billions of people who rely on fish as their primary source of protein and micronutrients and the most important ally against climate change due to its carbon and heat absorption capacity. The ocean is estimated to contribute up to 3% of global gross domestic product per year to the global economy. This number is expected to increase in the coming years.

However, the ocean is at risk. Warming waters, increased fishing activities, expansion of coastal infrastructure, pollution and myriad additional problems threaten its health and its benefits to humankind.

Global agreements have shown governments’ increased recognition and willingness to pursue ocean sustainability in the last few years. These agreements range from ending harmful fisheries subsidies to protecting waters beyond national borders and ending plastic pollution. The momentum is there and permanently turning the tide needs every sector of society to create positive change in its own way and in synergy.

For the last few decades, governments have been considered primarily responsible for environmental protection, but now we see that business and civil society also play central roles – very often revealing lessons on how to approach ocean sustainability.

Three coalitions demonstrate ambitious and game-changing action from different parts of society, inspiring others to act.

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Coalitions of change

1. High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy

Launched in 2018, the Ocean Panel is public sector-focused and convenes a group of 18 Heads of State pursuing the mission of sustainably managing 100% of the ocean under their national jurisdictions. The countries of the panel jointly represent 45% of countries’ exclusive economic zones and 50% of global coastlines, making their actions instrumental to achieving global ocean sustainability.

The Ocean Panel operates under robust science and political will, and its findings and statements are often cited in World Economic Forum Ocean Action Agenda material. It identifies scientific gaps and commissions research that helps inform the best strategies to promote ocean health.

Today, the panel members want to expand their positive influence by inspiring every coastal nation to develop a Sustainable Ocean Plan, guiding action towards 100% sustainable ocean management. This ambitious target has inspired action and interest from actors across civil society, development institutions and the private sector.

2. Getting to Zero Coalition

This coalition involving the private sector was launched in 2019 by the Global Maritime Forum (GMF), the World Economic Forum and Friends of Ocean Action, and is now led by GMF. It is a powerful alliance of more than 200 organizations (including 160 companies) within the maritime, energy, infrastructure and finance sectors, supported by key governments and intergovernmental organizations.

The coalition is committed to getting commercially viable vessels powered by zero-emission fuels by 2030 and towards full decarbonization by 2050. These goals will require developing the vessels and the future fuel supply chain, which can only be done through close collaboration and collective action between the maritime, energy and financial sectors, governments and intergovernmental organizations. The coalition is a prime example of how the private sector can become stewards for ocean sustainability and inspire others to raise their ambition.

3. Stop Funding Overfishing

The civil society 'Stop Funding Overfishing' coalition of more than 180 civil society organizations worldwide calls for eradicating harmful fisheries subsidies through a World Trade Organization agreement, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) – life below water.

The last few years have seen the Stop Funding Overfishing group galvanize a diverse global community of stakeholders behind clear messaging, advocating for change and government decisions that promote ocean health while engaging the private sector in productive conversations and public communications campaigns. As a Stop Funding Overfishing coalition member, Friends of Ocean Action shines a spotlight on the plight of fishers and fish stocks across its channels, events and networks to bring about necessary change.

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Increasing collaboration

There are so many overlaps and synergies, yet these different actors – governments, businesses and civil society – have not always been accustomed to systematically talking with each other. But by bringing these voices together, we see how sectors interconnect and overlap across interests and spheres of influence.

Achieving SDG14 is possible – but leaving its fruition to be realized by governments alone will render it impossible. We need to work together and talk to each other more.

These examples show that no stakeholder or sector can achieve change at the scale and speed needed alone. Only by raising ambition and bringing others along will we protect the ocean and the services it provides to humankind.

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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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Davos AgendaClimate and NatureOcean
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