A new report urges focusing on the world’s seas and oceans in the quest for sustainable development and economic progress. Green Economy in a Blue World, produced by a several organizations headed by the United Nations Environmental Program, asserts that the ocean, and how we see and use it, must play a huge role in the much-needed transition to a new, green economy.
The report looks at a wide variety of human impacts on ocean health, from fisheries to coastal tourism to marine-based renewable energy and ocean nutrient pollution. About 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 62 miles (100 km) of a coast; the ocean provides food and jobs for millions of people, but human activity is endangering ocean health through pollution and overuse.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner summarizes the challenge: “Oceans are a key pillar for many countries in their development and fight to tackle poverty, but the wide range of ecosystem services, including food security and climate regulation, provided by marine and coastal environments are today under unprecedented pressure.” The report comes out just five months before a major international summit meeting, Rio +20, that will address issues of sustainable development.
Turning Around Overfishing
Overfishing has devastated fish stocks, with 32% of global fish stocks estimated to be overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion and a further 50% estimated to be “fully exploited.” Overfishing has harmed food security around the world and worsened poverty. The report notes that reduction of fishing, the use of non-destructive fishing techniques, and the adoption of green technology by the fishing industry could halt the decline of stocks, with a potential economic gain of $50 billion a year.
Measuring True Cost and True Value
Yet pure economic measurements cannot encompass the myriad services the oceans and seas provide. The report recommends, “Shifting economy’s purpose away from the pure GDP-measured production of market values leads to new questions on broader societal goals, such as equity, security and the maintanance of natural capital.” It concludes “A less energy-intensive, more labor-intensive, less destructive, more sustainable, less exclusive, more integrative approach will lead to more jobs, strengthen intra-and inter-generational equity and empower people to economic participation and greater self-determination. An integrated approach and broad based commitment is needed: “Greening our ocean economies is a challenge that needs commitment from each of us – as the individual consumer, investor, entrepreneur or politician.”
A thoughtful, long-term view of the conservation of marine resources is vital to preserving the multiple benefits of a healthy ocean; long-term thinking and international cooperation would help a lot on land, as well.
Photo: Kelp and sardines. CA Dept of Fish and Game website