Every dollar invested in a sustainable ocean economy can yield at least five times the return in benefits, according to a new report commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.
As many countries roll out bailout packages to counter the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the report says investment in these four key ocean intervention areas could help aid economic recovery both now and in the future:
- Conservation and restoration of mangroves
- Decarbonization of the shipping industry
- Scaling up offshore wind production
- Increasing sustainable protein from the ocean
“They give jobs and livelihoods to people and communities and you’re doing so by investing in making your environment more sustainable,” said Manaswita Konar, lead author of the report. The study found that these four areas all give between five and 10 times the return on investment in terms of economic, environmental and health benefits, and could provide minimum net returns of $8.2 trillion over 30 years.
The report builds on research last year from the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy showing how ocean-based climate action can provide a fifth of the carbon emissions cuts needed to achieve the Paris Climate Accord goal of only 1.5 degrees of global warming.
New research shows that global temperatures could exceed that 1.5 degrees target in the next five years.
The High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy is a coalition of 14 world leaders focused on developing a sustainable ocean economy. The group includes Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and leaders from Norway, Jamaica, Indonesia, Mexico and Kenya.
The world’s oceans support 3.5% to 7% of global GDP, a number set to double by 2030, according to the report. Marine ecosystems like mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses sequester more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests and also provide invaluable coastal protection against hurricanes and sea level rise, which are exacerbated by climate change.
With the world’s population due to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, sustainable low-carbon sources of protein from the ocean, like fish and shellfish, can help reduce the pressure on emissions-intensive, land-based farming of livestock such as beef and lamb.
The new report details how these benefits or “ocean services” are increasingly under threat due to pollution, rising human population, overfishing and climate change. Some of these factors have already led to devastating acidification of coral reefs and loss of biodiversity in recent years, with over a third of corals and marine mammals threatened with extinction.
“Often the ocean is portrayed … as a victim of climate change and now also as a victim of the economic crisis post-Covid, but rarely do we think about ocean-based investments and solutions in terms of addressing these challenges,” said Konar.
In light of the economic challenges facing many governments worldwide, there has been a concerted push from environmental groups to pressure policymakers to stick to their commitments on carbon emissions and help stimulate a greener economy, amid concerns that climate action could take a backseat to short-term economic recovery.
The International Energy Agency has released a report produced with the International Monetary Fund calling for a $3 trillion investment in green recovery with the potential to create around 9 million jobs a year.
The ocean economy has been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, facing huge losses from downturns in tourism, fisheries and shipping.
“The challenge for ocean protection is there’s a tendency to use the pandemic not to do the management that we already agreed to do,” according to Jackie Savitz, chief policy officer for America ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana.
Savitz said she has seen moves to weaken fisheries management in the US rather than make them more sustainable. “We have to be careful we don’t undo all the good work we’ve done to date.”
The good news is she says that in many ways, ocean protection needn’t be a huge financial investment for cash-strapped governments.
For example, strategies like setting science-based limits on fishing so that stocks can recover, practicing selective fishing to protect endangered species and ensuring that fishing gear doesn’t destroy ocean habitats are all effective, cost-efficient ways to manage sustainable fisheries.
“For a lot of it, it’s just good management,” said Savitz. “The real high cost comes in political will and making the right decisions that benefit citizens in the future. And unfortunately, that seems to be the hardest thing to do.”