by Kate Kooka (Ocean Advisor) and Anthony Cox (Deputy Director), Environment Directorate
“We must ‘Build Back Bluer’”, urged Kenya’s Ambassador Macharia Kamau (Principal Secretary in the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs) at a Virtual Ocean Dialogue on the COVID-19 crisis, regional peace and security, and the blue economy. As countries are in the process of rebuilding their economies, this was a clever play on the phrase “Build Back Better” that has caught on as COVID-19 continues to wreak health and economic devastation around the world. The phrase originates from the world of disaster recovery management where it is used to describe the physical re-building of communities, cities and regions after earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis. But as governments and organisations begin to think about a post-COVID world (which still appears some way off for many countries), there is a growing call for a green recovery and to “Build Back Better”. The OECD has added its voice to those calling for a sustainable, resilient recovery in a recent policy brief on that very topic.
But what does it mean to “Build Back Bluer”? Is the ocean so different that it needs its own post-COVID-19 tagline?
The ocean will also figure prominently at this week’s United Nations Summit on Biodiversity, where Heads of State and Government are gathering to discuss “Urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development”. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of our relationship with nature, while having a destructive impact on human health and the economy worldwide. Ocean-based sectors are no exception: tourism, transportation and shipbuilding, and fisheries and aquaculture have all been massively impacted. The pandemic also raises challenges regarding waste generation, management and recycling practices, with larger volumes of medical waste and increased use of single-use plastics brought about for perceived sanitation. And the ocean is often the end-point for a proportion of this waste: within a few short weeks, we began seeing disposable masks wash up on shores.
Amidst the mounting death toll and deepening economic crisis, we have also witnessed a dramatic, if temporary, drop in some forms of pollution. Less tourism, for instance, has meant less travel and less greenhouse gas emissions (in 2013, the overall carbon footprint of tourism represented 8% of global emissions). It can also mean less stress on sensitive ecosystems, as in Viet Nam’s Cham Island Marine Protected Area and in Venice, allowing the ocean environment some breathing space to recover. These cases have given us a glimpse into what some ocean-based sectors may look like with a bluer tint to recovery.
Insights from OECD work on ocean underscores the complex, challenging and interconnected nature of the ocean challenges that governments face. Drawing on the OECD work on marine biodiversity and ecosystem services, coastal adaptation and resilience, fisheries and aquaculture, marine plastics pollution, development co-operation, ocean science and innovation, and sustainable ocean finance, here are four areas where governments can act now, using their recovery and stimulus packages to ensure that we “Build Back Bluer”:
Taking Ambassador Kamau’s missive to heart, the OECD is helping governments to “build back bluer”. On the occasion of this year’s World Oceans Day on 8 June, the OECD launched its sustainable ocean economy database to provide decision makers with ready access to the state of play on various key ocean-related indicators. An additional interactive web-based platform demonstrates examples of real-world ocean policy action. On 8 September, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría launched Sustainable Ocean for All: Harnessing the Benefits of Sustainable Ocean Economies for Developing Countries. And you can tune in to an expert discussion on 7 October to learn more about Financing a Sustainable Ocean Economy during a dedicated session on Day 2 of this year’s OECD Forum on Green Finance and Investment.
OECD (2020), Sustainable Ocean for All: Harnessing the Benefits of Sustainable Ocean Economies for Developing Countries, The Development Dimension, OECD Publishing, Paris.
OECD (2019), Rethinking Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, OECD Publishing, Paris.