Due to contemporary environmental challenges, the ocean, coastal and marine ecosystems, and biodiversity are under severe stress. Growing marine pollution, accelerating climate change, and over-exploitation of marine resources have significant socioeconomic consequences for the billions of people that rely on them.
Coastal regions and populations are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In addition to impacts such as rising temperature, extreme heatwaves, erratic rainfall patterns, etc., coastal regions are also exposed to the two most dramatic and visible impacts of climate change: sea level rise and increasingly frequent and intense cyclonic storms.
As we navigate the challenges of a rapidly changing world, it becomes crucial to explore novel solutions that address these vulnerabilities and provide economic growth and development opportunities.
Recent estimates suggest that ocean-based sectors and activities contribute around $2.5 trillion to the global economy and provide livelihoods for over 3 billion people. In addition to the conventional maritime sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture, ports and shipping, and coastal and marine tourism, countries are beginning to explore new avenues for growth, including ocean-based renewable energy, deep-sea exploration, and marine biotechnology.
At the same time, the fragile state of the ocean environment demands that all maritime activities minimize their impact on the environment and conserve coastal and marine resources. In this context, embracing the concept of a blue economy offers a promising path toward a sustainable and resilient future.
Addressing maritime manifestations of climate change
While countries define blue economy based on their national circumstances and priorities, ensuring sustainability and resilience would demand that all economic activity be balanced with the long-term carrying capacity of ocean ecosystems.
Ensuring social equity and gender equality and promoting greater collaboration among all stakeholders also form integral components of the blue economy approach. Pursuing a blue economy provides the most effective way to reduce coastal vulnerabilities and address the maritime manifestations of climate change and other environmental risks.
The benefits of embracing a blue economy extend far beyond environmental sustainability. This approach aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and helps us achieve multiple targets. For instance, sustainable fisheries management supports SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) by ensuring food security and improving nutrition. Coastal tourism, when implemented responsibly, can contribute to SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) by creating employment opportunities and boosting local economies.
Investments in the blue economy, including marine conservation and restoration efforts, contribute to SDG 14 (Life Below Water), protecting marine ecosystems and biodiversity, and enhancing their resilience. Importantly, studies show that action on SDG 14 is lagging and is the least funded of all the SDGs. A recent report by the World Economic Forum found that “$175 billion per year is needed to achieve SDG14 by 2030, and yet, between 2015 and 2019, just below $10 billion in total was invested”.
Maximizing the blue economy’s impact requires integration into broader global climate change and biodiversity initiatives. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) provide platforms for international cooperation.
Pursuing a sustainable and resilient blue economy can significantly accelerate efforts to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and the recently adopted Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes act as highly efficient carbon sinks and provide terrestrial and marine species habitats.
Therefore, conserving and restoring these ecosystems will mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and conserve biodiversity. They also offer co-benefits for climate adaptation by acting as natural barriers against sea-level rise, storm surges, and tropical cyclones. The ocean can also provide a significant source of renewable energy through wind, tidal, and wave energy. These clean and sustainable sources complement land-based renewable energy sources, which would be particularly effective for land-scarce countries such as India.
India’s bold new initiatives
Mindful of unparalleled opportunities for growth and challenges in the maritime domain, several countries have released their strategies for developing and/ or expanding their blue economy in recent years. India, too, has launched several bold new initiatives to promote the development of the national blue economy, such as the Sagarmala initiative, launched in 2016, for fostering port-led development; the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana, established in 2020, to bring about a ‘Blue Revolution’ through sustainable and responsible development of the fisheries sector; the Deep Ocean Mission, for understanding and mapping the deep-sea environment; and a comprehensive Maritime India Vision 2030, launched in 2021, under the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways.
India adopted the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification to classify and better manage coastal regions and conserve ecologically sensitive coastal and marine areas, including ecosystems such as mangrove forests, coral reefs, and seagrass meadows. In 2022, India introduced an amendment to the Plastic Waste Management Rules banning select single-use plastic items. It introduced policies for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in waste management as crucial steps towards combating plastic pollution, including the marine environment.
India has also actively promoted blue economy in international forums and forged new partnerships. As part of India’s G20 Presidency, the blue economy is a key priority under the Environment and Climate Sustainability Working Group to promote sustainable and equitable economic development through the ocean and its resources.
While the concept of a blue economy holds excellent promise, realizing its potential requires new financial resources and effective use of sustainable finance mechanisms to address ocean-related issues. Governments, international organizations, and the private sector must allocate funding towards blue economy initiatives, including scientific research, innovative technology development, sustainable practices implementation, and resilience against climate change.
Furthermore, leveraging sustainable finance mechanisms such as those under the UNFCCC and UN CBD can attract investment capital towards the ocean and blue economy-related projects, stimulating economic growth while advancing sustainability goals. Mobilizing such financial resources would require a clear signal from policymakers by prioritizing blue economy strategies and action plans. The work has begun at several national and international fora, but we must pledge to prioritize our blue frontiers this Oceans Day.
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