By Andrew Prag and Shanda Moorghen, OECD Environment Directorate
“All relevant studies show that enabling the required financial flows into sustainable coastal and offshore projects will turn the tide on the destruction of life in the ocean” – Peter Thomson, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, introducing the OECD panel on “Financing a Sustainable Ocean Economy”, 7 October 2020.
The ocean underpins billions of livelihoods, is a vast reservoir of biodiversity and, through its role in regulating the climate, is even critical to the well-being of the planet itself. The ocean and coastal regions provide numerous and invaluable ecosystem services ranging from carbon storage, oxygen generation, protection from storms and of course food. But in this age of converging crises – the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, and the impending environmental emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss – the ocean is increasingly vulnerable.
At the heart of the race to protect the ocean is its relationship with humankind. The pressures of human activity have pushed ocean sustainability to the edge. Pollution is a major problem and a recent study found that there are probably more than 14 million tonnes of plastic at the bottom of the ocean, which is 30 times more than the already damaging amount near the surface. The impact of climate change is also significant. The IPCC ocean report highlighted that coral reefs would suffer huge losses even if global warming were limited to 1.5 °C.
Protecting the ocean is essential for the long-term habitability of the planet, as conveyed in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, “life below water”. Making this goal a reality will require a rethink of the ocean economy. Economic activity in the ocean is substantial and was growing fast before the COVID-19 pandemic, but many investments, past and planned, are not environmentally sustainable. Financing is key, and policy action is required to create the conditions needed to reorient investment towards more sustainable activities, in particular as countries start to chart their recoveries from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
The challenges and opportunities of sustainable ocean finance in the current context were the subject of a recent OECD policy paper, and were discussed earlier this month in a session* focused on “Financing a sustainable ocean economy” during the OECD virtual Forum on Green Finance and Investment.
The challenges of the current health and economic crises should not distract from the crisis facing nature and the ocean. There is no doubt that COVID-19 recovery packages will dominate policy making in the short-term. Post-pandemic recovery packages will not be sustainable by default and policy makers cannot afford to take the ocean, and the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on it, for granted. We must act now to protect and sustainably use the ocean, to ensure that the planet remains habitable for future generations. We need to build back bluer.
For more on the subject, explore the new Blue Paper commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The paper examines how the next generation of financing mechanisms can support the ocean transition in an inclusive manner and how catalytic funds can be mobilised to finance that transition.
OECD (2020), Reframing Financing and Investment for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, OECD Publishing, Paris.
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.
Find out more about OECD work on the ocean: www.oecd.org/ocean
* The panel was moderated by Anthony Cox (OECD) and introduced by Ambassador Peter Thomson (United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean). Participants included Safri Burhanuddin (Deputy Minister for Indonesia’s Co-ordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investments), Chip Cunliffe (Director, Sustainable Development at AXA), Vidar Helgesen (Norwegian Government, Special Representative for the Ocean), Antha N. Williams (Global Head of Climate & Environmental Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies), Eric Usher (Head, UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative) and Ingrid van Wees (Vice-President for Finance and Risk Management at the Asian Development Bank). Watch the video recording of the session.