Panel seeks exclusive economic zones to support sustainable ocean

Clara Nwachukwu

The High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel), has called for all Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) to be sustainably managed under Sustainable Ocean Plans by 2030.

This follows the commitment of the Panel’s 14 serving heads of state and government of their national EEZs to be governed by Sustainable Ocean Plans by 2025.

The call is contained in, Turning the Tide: How to finance a sustainable ocean recovery – A practical guide for financial institutions, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Initiative (UNEP SBEFI).

The SBEFI seeks to:

  • Positively influence mainstream ocean-related investment, insurance and lending to drive development that underpins a sustainable blue economy;
  • Catalyse finance sector engagement and practical action to adopt and implement the Principles, deliver a sustainable blue economy and support the ambitions of SDG 14 (Life Below Water); and
  • Develop concrete actions and outputs for insurers, lenders and investors to align lending, insurance and investment decisions with ocean health.

The promoters believe that if widely adopted, the Principles could help to transform how the ocean’s assets are used and managed to secure healthy ecosystems, assuring future environmental, social and economic resilience while advancing nature-based solutions.

Recall that the Ocean Panel, which was formed in December last year, include Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Palau and Portugal as well as three African countries –  Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana, which committed to sustainably manage nearly 30 million sq km of their national waters by 2025.

Importance of exclusive zones

The ocean is said to cover the majority of the earth’s surface, holding 97% of all water and 80% of all life forms, and the UNEP FI SBE projects that the blue economy will increase to $3trillion by 2030, with some ocean industries set to grow faster than the global economy.

Major ocean sectors such as tourism, shipping, fishing, aquaculture and marine renewable energy collectively contribute to a ‘blue’ economy, whichwas estimated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) at a global gross value added of $1.5trillion in 2010.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, in his foreword to the report noted that since everything is connected, from economies to ecosystems, from industry to biodiversity, financial institutions especially banks and underwriters should provide the financing, investment and insurance required to power ocean-related sectors, as financial decisions taken today impact the lives and livelihoods of future generations.  

“This is so because climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and over-exploitation of the ocean’s resources are causing a palpable decline in the ocean’s health, and there cannot be a healthy planet in the future without a healthy ocean. It is therefore critical here and now that financial flows are directed towards the sustainability of the blue economy.”

Indeed, in 2015, all the UN Member States agreed to the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14), to conserve and sustainably use the resources of the ocean.

Therefore, the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles, published earlier this year, is a set of guidelines regarded as the keystone for financing activities in the ocean economy.

Wide use of these principles, the report said, will ensure ocean finance is delivered with sustainability at its core, so that profitability goes hand-in-hand with environmental and social stewardship.

The financing principles complement policy and decision-support of UNEP to develop transformative pathways and comprehensive ocean governance towards ocean sustainability.

However, UNEP believes the ocean health is under threat, faced with the triple crises of pollution, nature loss and climate change, leaving industries, businesses and livelihoods exposed. “With existing financing still largely directed towards unsustainable sectors and activities, it is critical that all sectors of the blue economy are rapidly transitioned towards sustainable pathways.”

Climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and over-exploitation of the ocean’s resources are causing a palpable decline in the ocean’s health, and there cannot be a healthy planet in the future without a healthy ocean

As a result, banks, insurers and investors are believed to have a major role to play in financing this transition to a sustainable blue economy, helping to rebuild ocean prosperity and restore biodiversity to the ocean.

“Through their lending, underwriting and investment activities, as well as their client relationships, financial institutions have a major impact on ocean health and hold the power to accelerate and mainstream the sustainable transformation of ocean-linked industries.”

The Chief Executive Officer, Storebrand Asset Management, Jan Erik Saugestad, noting that healthy and resilient oceans are key to achieving many of the SDGs and the long term value, also said the ocean provides countless benefits and is essential for jobs, food security, healthy people and ecosystems.

“It produces over half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. Our dependence on a healthy and resilient ocean is key which is why we are committed to this initiative and to contribute to the transition to a sustainable ocean economy,” he added.

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