One of the key events leading up to the United Nations’ climate conference (COP27) in Egypt this year was the Ocean Conference (UNOC), where global decision makers worked towards finding solutions to protect the world’s ocean resources. For oceanic regions and island nations, UNOC was not just a summit on building effective marine policy, but one that will dictate the future of their communities. Islanders have a strong relationship with the oceans that surround them both from a cultural and economic point of view, making any sustainable development opportunity relating to the ocean a multi-faceted solution.
An ocean emergency
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and other global islands were at the forefront of discussions at COP26 last year as they called for stronger action on climate change, better access to finance, and more accountability from major polluters. While reviews of the results of their lobbying was mixed, it yielded major wins like the announcement of the launch of Belize’s Blue Bonds and enabled the furtherance of the 30×30 target. SIDS control 30% of all oceans and seas, further highlighting the pressing need for solutions taking into account the wealth of the marine environment. This led to the Blue Economy coming up in conversations around the summit, but with no dedicated ocean agenda all eyes shifted to the Ocean Conference held in Lisbon.
- Read also: World Meteorological Organization report highlights need for pressing collaborative action in Caribbean
“Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency. We must turn the tide,” stated UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the opening of the summit, “We cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean.” This sentiment has been echoed throughout the conference so far, with emphasis being placed on implementing sustainable solutions capable of safeguarding the world’s most important environmental resource and the communities that rely on it. As such, the Blue Economy has not just become a priority for SIDS and islands, but also global governments.
According to the UK Commonwealth, the worldwide ocean economy is valued at around $1.5 trillion USD per year, and is set to double by 2030 to $3 trillion. Additionally, a recent study by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy showed that every $1 invested in the sustainable ocean economy will return $5 over a 30-year period – a return on investment embellished by the fact that it would promote environmental preservation. This represents an unmissable opportunity for island economies to invest in. Considering the ocean resources available within the Caribbean and the communities reliant on them for subsistence, jobs, and tourism, developing the Blue Economy should be an increasing priority.
There are a range of case studies that can be used to illustrate the benefits of small-scale Blue Economy projects for island communities globally. From sponge farming in Zanzibar, to conservation-based tourism in Jamaica, decision-makers in the Caribbean can model projects and find ways of maximizing their local marine resources. Likewise, there are opportunities in the region to tackle key issues that have eluded island communities globally – namely the sustainability of the tourism industry, which will have a major impact on the economic viability of ocean-based solutions, with experts believing it represents 40% share of export value.
Island-led solutions for a blue economy
Reliant on fisheries and tourism for a large share of GDP, islands are susceptible to the ‘ocean emergency’ highlighted by SG Guterres, investing in ocean conservation and sustainable practices will not just protect our own cultural heritage but also our economic future. The Caribbean has always been innovative. We have made our own luck and built our success on our ability to find and develop local opportunities, and have become world leading innovators as a result.
“What island nations are demonstrating is that benefitting from ocean resources is not a zero-sum game,” points out Heidi Schroderus-Fox, Acting High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing States and Small Island Developing States, “Conserving the ocean protects marine life and generates economic growth for island and business communities alike.”
UNOC has made one thing clear: the Blue Economy is the next step in Caribbean development and excellence. We have the tools and resources to become a region that is climate resilient, carbon neutral, and a sustainable powerhouse.
Be sure to join our Caribbean communities.