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World Governments Must Take Action to Protect Ocean Economy

18 May 2015

Governments around the world must take action to safeguard the contributions of the oceans to the global economy, which are valued at $24 trillion, according to this report from the WWF: 'Reviving the Ocean Economy - The Case for Action - 2015'.

Earth is distinguished from all other known planets by the presence of a warm, salty ocean that covers more than two-thirds of its surface.

Its value to our planet is incalculable, but has been brought into sharp focus by the fact that the future of humanity is dependent on the health of the ocean, and its ability to deliver goods and services.

This report includes an analysis of the raw economic value of the ocean, and foreshadows the losses we will incur if we continue on our current destructive trajectory.

We believe the figures are a vast underestimate, and the economic assets at risk in the ocean are even more substantial than those presented here.

The annual “gross marine product” (GMP) – equivalent to a country’s annual gross domestic product – is at least US$2.5 trillion; the total “asset” base of the ocean is at least US$24 trillion.

Underpinning this value are direct outputs (fishing, aquaculture), services enabled (tourism, education), trade and transportation (coastal and oceanic shipping) and adjacent benefits (carbon sequestration, biotechnology).

Putting it into an international context, if the ocean were a country it would have the seventh largest economy in the world.

Outputs that are not generated by the ocean per se, such as those from offshore oil and gas or wind energy, were excluded from these estimates, as were assets for which data is not yet available.

The analysis did not include valuable intangibles such as the ocean’s role in climate regulation, the production of oxygen, temperature stabilisation of our planet, or the spiritual and cultural services the ocean provides. The fact that these additional values are not included in this analysis means that the actual value of the ocean is much higher.

Ocean economic value is tied to assets that are in decline

As this report shows, more than two-thirds of the annual base economic value of the ocean is produced by assets that rely directly on healthy ocean conditions.

Given the strong evidence that major ocean assets have been in steep decline for decades in some cases, the ocean economy is already faltering and not delivering anything like its full potential.

This comes at a time when the need for food and resources from the ocean is increasing rapidly.

The ocean is changing faster than at any other point in tens of millions of years. There is a real chance that we may push many ocean systems beyond the point of no return, seriously constraining options for our children and for generations to come.

In some cases, such as ocean acidification, it will take tens of thousands of years (or hundreds of generations of people) for the ocean to repair itself; in the case of species extinction, the impacts will be permanent: there is no going back.

The growth in human population means restoring the ocean economy and its core assets is a matter of global urgency, but the list of ocean systems under heavy pressure is already long and growing.

Many fisheries are in serious decline, and while there has been some progress, many unsustainable practices continue. These problems are exacerbated by the destruction and clearing of habitat, particularly in coastal areas, and by pollution.

Eight steps to restore the “shared wealth fund” of the ocean

If we consider the analogy of the ocean as a “shared wealth fund”, our principal capital is being eroded at a rate that undermines the ocean’s value for future generations. It is time to push the reset button before we drive our shared wealth fund to collapse.

The good news is that rapid action on a number of key issues will deliver real change and benefits for ocean systems and the people who depend on them. Some of the benefits could be reinstated in a relatively short period of time.

Central to this is conserving habitat that is critical to the restoration of healthy and productive natural systems: the core assets of the ocean.

The opportunity is to galvanise an international movement that will take on this challenge.

Leaders must prioritise the ocean and take the eight decisive actions that are outlined here for a better future for communities, ecosystems and businesses. The eight actions proposed are achievable and logical, and many are mutually reinforcing.

They are best taken at the same time; however we recommend that the first three actions be prioritised for 2015.

ACTION 1: Governments must embrace the Sustainable Development Goals, with their strong targets and indicators for the ocean, and commit to coherent policy, financing, trade and technology frameworks to restore and protect ocean ecosystems as part of the UN Post-2015 Agenda process.

ACTION 2: Leaders must address the serious problems of ocean warming and acidification. We must listen to science and make the deep cuts in emissions that will prevent further increases in dangerous climate change.

It is vital that the world signs on to an ambitious international agreement in Paris in December 2015 (COP21) that will allow the rapid decarbonisation of our economies and societies.

ACTION 3: Coastal countries must deliver against the agreed target for at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas to be conserved and effectively managed by 2020, with an increase to 30 per cent by 2030.

This is not just about the extent of area protected; it is about establishing ecologically coherent, representative networks of marine protected areas that help ensure the strongest outcomes for biodiversity, food security and livelihoods.

ACTION 4: Habitat protection and fisheries management must go hand in hand. Institutional arrangements for managing the ocean should reflect the fact that an integrated approach for ecologically managed fisheries must focus on ecosystem resilience and function, as well as economic and social well-being.

ACTION 5: Global crises require global solutions. Given the transboundary nature of the ocean, we need appropriate international mechanisms for negotiation and collaboration to ensure its sustainable management.

Formation of a “Blue Alliance” of concerned maritime states will provide leadership and build the case for a rapid and comprehensive set of actions on behalf of the ocean. Such a coalition could cultivate international will and foster the shared global responsibility and informed decision-making that are crucial when it comes to ocean resources.

It will also be important to establish a global fund to support countries that have fewer resources and are more vulnerable to the impacts of ocean degradation.

ACTION 6: Appropriately structured public-private partnerships that take into account the well-being of communities, ecosystems and business have the potential to revolutionize how sectors work together sustainably.

Enabling a network of such cross-sectoral partnerships (public, private and community) to share ideas, solutions and blueprints for sustainable practices will ensure that even the least developed countries will have access to the necessary resources.

ACTION 7: Communities and countries must develop complete, transparent and public accounting of the benefits, goods and services that the ocean provides. Valuing the ocean’s assets is vitally important to helping inform effective decision-making.

ACTION 8: There is a need for an international platform to support and share ocean knowledge through which problems can be understood, and solutions and methodologies evaluated and applied. Such a platform must be interdisciplinary and informed by biological, social and economic data. This platform will build capacity and improve access to critical information and expertise.

These eight actions offer a clear plan for reviving the ocean economy.

This year, 2015, is particularly important and opportune to forge global leadership and investment for the ocean. In 2015, two historic international agreements could be struck with provisions that have the potential to arrest the decline in ocean health, and shift toward a trajectory of ocean restoration.

The year also marks an important opportunity for countries to harness the growing momentum on ocean conservation and sustainable use, and collectively make clear commitments on habitat conservation.

The report acknowledges and builds on the work of other institutions engaged in ocean conservation including the Global Partnership for Oceans convened by the World Bank, the Global Ocean Commission and others.

May 2015

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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