The oceans and seas are critical to sustaining life on Earth. Oceans produce more than half the oxygen in the atmosphere, absorb carbon and hold 97% of the earth’s water. Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion annually (5% of global GDP). Oceans provide around 350 million jobs and food for over 1 billion people. But overfishing, pollution and climate change are putting unprecedented stress on marine ecosystems and affecting the services they provide.
Nowhere is the need to reverse these trends more pressing than in Asia where majority live along coasts and where it is estimated that more than three billion people depend on the sea’s resources. In the past 40 years, more than 40% of the region’s coral reefs and mangroves have disappeared and unsustainable practices by Asia’s fishing fleet, the biggest in the world, are depleting the region’s fish stocks. Asia’s coastal areas are also recognised as among the most vulnerable to climate change.
Recognising the importance of healthy oceans to sustainable development, the goal to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” was adopted as Goal #14 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To implement this global goal, alongside promoting the Blue Economy Concept, it is essential that countries collaborate through various regional and international platforms. The Blue Economy is a sustainable development framework which looks at oceans as “Development Spaces” which provide benefits for current and future generations while also ensuring that the integrity and functioning of coastal and ocean systems is maintained. It is based on principles of equity, low carbon development, resource efficiency and social inclusion, and recognises that the oceans have a major role to play in humanity’s future. The development of a Blue Economy will demand new partnerships among stakeholders within and across countries, regions, sub-regions, international agencies and the private sector to facilitate greater flows of expertise, finance, and capacity to effectively close the gap in sustainable management of both fisheries and non-living sea resources. The private sector, in particular, needs to come forward. The mobilisation of greater cooperation around the Blue Economy concept, through South-South and Triangular Cooperation, is a foreign policy priority for the Government of Bangladesh and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh organised the first ever international workshop on Blue Economy in Dhaka in September 2014, followed by a high-level panel discussion on the side lines of the 71st session of ESCAP in Bangkok. Other countries in Asia such as India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and Viet Nam also have a strong emphasis on Blue Economy and sustainable use of marine resources for inclusive growth. In promoting Blue Economy, Bangladesh has taken a number of steps such as establishing an Oceanographic Research Institute in the Maritime University, and a National Adaptation Programme of Action as part of developing a strategy to better govern marine resources under its 7th five-year development plan, SDGs Implementation Strategy and Climate Change Resilience Action Plan. Indonesia has pioneered a new path for economic development, environmental preservation and cultural empowerment. India is urging cooperation on the Blue Economy, particularly under the Indian Ocean Rim Association. The Philippines, at this year’s APEC meeting, hosted a High Level Policy Dialogue on Food Security and Blue Economy which focused on collective actions across APEC countries to sustainably manage coastal and marine resources for food security and inclusive economic growth. And Thailand has taken a number of initiatives to enhance resilience against climate change including capacity building programmes and creating new business opportunities for coastal communities. Last 23 October 2015, the Bangladesh Embassy in Bangkok and IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Asia, organised a thematic consultation on Blue Economy and climate change resilience, where representatives from a number of countries in South and Southeast Asia were present—including 11 countries from the Mangroves for the Future initiative co-chaired by IUCN and the UN Development Programme. The event provided a platform for participating countries to share initiatives toward securing a Blue Economy and to underscore the need for collaboration. This week, the world’s attention is focused on the climate talks in Paris where the international community is forging a new agreement for the future of the planet. The oceans are central to stabilising the earth’s climate by absorbing heat and carbon. But warming oceans are changing climate patterns and rising CO2 levels are threatening many marine ecosystems through ocean acidification. The importance of healthy oceans for climate change mitigation and adaptation cannot be underestimated. The oceans are a shared resource, therefore a trans-boundary perspective is important. Laying down a vision for greater cooperation in Asia has already started. The consultations in Bangkok last month can contribute to the momentum for creating partnerships, collaboration and common understanding that is required to further protect vital marine and coastal ecosystems across countries and regions. Partnerships and collaboration are needed in both public and private sectors, at national and regional levels, to steer a sustainable Blue Economy in Asia with special recognition of the needs of developing countries, and in line with existing global, regional and local commitments. By: H.E. Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem, Bangladesh Ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia, and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UNESCAP Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director of IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Asia