Nature and Biodiversity

3 ways public-private partnerships can help restore ocean health

Ocean health is measurably in decline due to a range of threats.

Ocean health is measurably in decline due to a range of threats. Image: Unsplash/Christoffer Engström

Alfredo Giron
Head of Ocean, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The Earth relies on the ocean, which regulates the climate, absorbs over 90% of the world's excess heat and provides food for billions.
  • But ocean health is measurably in decline due to global threats such as acidification, warming, deoxygenation and overfishing.
  • Here's why public-private partnerships are needed to create the momentum needed for large-scale impacts that benefit the ocean, climate and people.

The ocean is vital to all life on Earth, it regulates our climate and provides food sources for billions of people. If it weren’t for the ocean, our planet would be a lot warmer as it absorbs more than 90% of excess heat.

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However, ocean health is measurably in decline due to threats such as acidification, warming, deoxygenation and overfishing. Despite recent triumphs of multilateralism of the past year, there is no time to relax on a job well done.

The ocean cannot keep sustaining us unless we come together through ambitious coalitions of action to have lasting positive effect on ocean health.

Progress made on protecting the ocean in 2023

During 2023, the ocean community celebrated progress on multiple fronts. Ambitious international policy instruments came into place, such as the agreement and ratification of the High Seas Treaty.

National governments established bold plans to protect and restore nature, such as the “debt for nature” swap and the creation of a large marine protected area (MPA) in the Galapagos.

Meanwhile, the private sector recognized its role and responsibility in achieving a sustainable blue economy. For instance, the shipping sector made commitments towards a just and equitable transition pledging to reduce emissions by 20-30% by 2030, progressing to a 70-80% reduction by 2040.

Momentum on protecting and restoring the ocean is swelling, and more than ever, public-private collaboration has become central to the discussion.

As we head into 2024, it is time to prioritize efforts and ensure that we are creating the large-scale, transformational collaborations necessary to protect and restore ocean health.

For example, during COP28, a large coalition of businesses, governments, international and civil society organizations launched the Ocean Breakthroughs.

This is a bold plan to accelerate the contributions of ocean solutions to address the climate crisis in five sectors: marine conservation, shipping, ocean renewable energy, aquatic foods and coastal tourism.

Each of these sectors represents an opportunity for public-private collaboration and 2024 is shaping up to be the year for the ocean and climate communities to test new, creative ways to put these collaborations to work at scale.


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

The World Economic Forum’s Ocean Action Agenda recognizes the need to accelerate collaboration in this space. As the prime organization for public-private cooperation, the Forum has a key role to play.

As such, three priority actions have been identified that will guide our work in 2024 and beyond. To successfully accomplish these objectives, it is critical to ensure that people are at the core of all efforts, thus delivering benefits to communities.

1. Driving a net-zero nature-positive blue economy

The historic Global Biodiversity Framework explicitly calls for business to assess, disclose and address their impact on nature. Mounting societal concerns and regulatory and policy momentum are also pushing nature higher up corporate agendas.

Focusing on catalysing business actions that contribute to a nature-positive economy, the Ocean Action Agenda aims to provide marine industries, such as offshore renewables, port activities, shipping and seafood, with a better understanding of their sector-specific interactions with marine biodiversity, as a crucial starting point.

But business cannot embark on this transition alone, it is important to look at the policy and financial levers that can effectively shift the market, as well as data-driven approaches to measuring impact.

The World Economic Forum is convening meaningful partnerships between government, industry and science to accelerate this transition, such as with the work on Sector Transition Pathways, publishing a series of reports on sector-specific actions that companies should take now to transform their businesses and contribute to reversing nature loss by 2030.

2. Investing in the conservation and restoration of marine ecosystems

Coastal wetlands sequester carbon at a rate roughly 10 times greater than mature tropical forests, and mangrove forests alone store an estimated 12 billion metric tons of carbon globally, roughly one third of global annual emissions in 2021.

The Blue Carbon Action Partnership at the World Economic Forum enables national governments to develop their own ambitions for the conservation and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems.

It also provides a platform for businesses that want to invest in these ecosystems to do so in a credible, high-quality, responsible way. The Forum is uniquely placed to drive investment from members into these projects particularly through pledges.


To date, there have been 26 corporate pledges to high quality mangrove projects amounting to 83 million mangroves to be conserved or planted. In 2024, we will accelerate this action by partnering with more countries in addition to Indonesia and the Philippines and continue guiding responsible investments from business partners.

This work directly supports the efforts of the Mangroves Breakthrough which aims to catalyse the investment of $4 billion to secure the future of 15 million hectares of mangroves globally by 2030 through collective action on halting mangrove loss, restoring half of recent losses, doubling protection of mangroves globally, and ensuring sustainable longterm finance for all existing mangroves.

3. Fostering ocean innovation to address local challenges with global results

Ocean innovations have great potential to address pressing global challenges if we can unlock the investments needed to deploy them at scale. The World Economic Forum hosts 1000 Ocean Startups, a coalition of leading entrepreneur-supporting organizations enabling ocean-impact driven start-ups.

The coalition aims to accelerate ocean impact innovation and has the objective to help launch 1,000 ocean solutions by 2030 to regenerate ocean health and achieve United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14, which focuses on life below water.

As an example, UpLink, the Forum’s platform to accelerate innovation, and a member of the 1000 Ocean Startups (1000OS), has been transformational in the ocean space, elevating great ideas to large scale solutions by sourcing innovative solutions to pressing sustainability challenges.

One such example is Sea6 Energy based in Bangalore, India – winner of the UpLink Challenge on Restoring, Protecting and Investing in our Ocean. The company develops innovative technologies for sustainable, large-scale and mechanized farming of sea-plants and their development into novel products such as biostimulants, renewable chemicals, bioplastics and even biofuels.

Next year will mark a significant milestone in the company’s progress with the inauguration of the first 100-hectare platform to be unveiled in Bali.

In 2024, we will accelerate our ocean innovation work, with a focus on sustainable blue food innovations and scaling ocean conservation initiatives in Africa – thereby contributing to the development of the Western Indian Ocean’s Great Blue Wall.

These three objectives will ultimately contribute to realizing the vision of international agreements and the Ocean Breakthroughs.

There is no panacea for the complex global issues we face and no one single organization or government can do this alone. We believe in the urgency and transformative power of public-private partnerships to create the momentum needed for large-scale impacts that benefit the ocean, climate and people.

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