REACTION: Coral Triangle highlighted at the Our Oceans Conference
We are all connected. We’ve known this for the longest time. 70% of the planet is covered in water. We depend on the oceans for so many things, and yet, refuse to take responsibility for it. We manage the land as if it has nothing to do with our seas.
For years, we have talked about the importance of ridge-to-reef strategies. We have broad consensus that fisheries must be managed through an ecosystem approach. And yet, we continue to manage natural capital in neat little pigeonholes. In an archipelago like the Philippines, it is no great secret that the state of the uplands defines the condition of our seas.
The seas are a critical shared resource. Their management, therefore, is a shared responsibility. Governance is not government. It is you and I. Democracy is not merely freedom. It is participation. Government cannot do this alone. The reality of short electoral terms makes it clear that government’s role is, at best, catalytic. The long-term actions, and the investments that will take us to boom or bust, lie with the private sector. All of us must be part of the solution.
Tweaks are not going to cut it. In terms of food security, the world is headed for a major tipping point. The global footprint network shows that as a planet, we sit 50% beyond the Earth’s sustainable limits. Asia Pacific’s century has taken it 77% beyond the Region’s sustainable balance. The Philippines now strains at 117% beyond our nation’s sustainable limits. And a comparison of Metro-Manila’s footprint per capita against the remnants of its bio-capacity, clearly show that we are 3400% beyond the capital region’s sustainable limits. We are in gross ecological overshoot. There is no time. We must go beyond concepts and debate, beyond science, beyond policy, beyond talk shops and agreements. The challenges we face are nothing short of systemic. The decisions will be Solomonic. They demand that we mainstream new ways of doing things. Not merely best practice, but next practice. In the front lines, where it counts.
Awareness? Building capacity? Improving management? Protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems? Yes, those are all important. But, is that the best we can do? Does it make any sense to monitor and manage our inventory of natural capital, if we are not devoting a parallel and equal effort to addressing the challenge of increasing consumption? How many episodes of heightened sea surface temperatures will tell us that a remake of old school conservation is not enough? How many spikes of acidification will it take before we realize that we may be putting all our eggs in one basket?
Does this mean that marine protected areas are a waste of time? Absolutely not. The fisheries sector is critical. But, it is not a level playing field. It is a steep slope. By its nature, fishing is geographically diffused and freely available. In contrast, aquaculture is a learned, evolving technology that requires a distribution system and strong supply chains. Mainstreaming this knowledge will take some time. The environment is the social security system of the poor. The marginalized artisanal sector will require a bridge to see them through this difficult period. Though temporary, marine protected areas are the genetic bank that will provide that crucial bridge.
Global population is growing from 7 to 9 Billion. Consumption will increase, whether we like it or not. Is it logical to say that our primary solution is to step on the brakes? Sustainable fisheries are merely one of many solutions that we need to put in place. The recent World Bank report validates that before mid-century, 70% of the world’s fish will come from aquaculture. Yes, there are problems. Have we solved the problems of aquaculture? Have we figured out how to mainstream responsible aquaculture technology? Humankind has done this before. We must do it again and we must do it better. As we move forward toward achieving the target of feeding the world, we need to clearly understand if our mantra is “profit” or “protein”. And, we must figure out how to balance off one against the other. The answer is not going to be black or white.
Over the next thirty years, an estimated two billion people will join the global middle class. “Touched again with immortality. Given back the upward looking and the light…… the music and the dream.” Empowered to both acquire and consume, they will demand their pound of flesh.
As economies evolve from developing to emerging to developed, economic activity shifts from simple extraction, to processing and supply chain interventions, to full transactional control. Traditionally, developed economies have used trade as the primary tool to make up for resource scarcity. This will change. This is part of the new opportunity. Unless we are able to learn how to sustainably produce more with less, this new global middle class will say: “Wait. Me first.” Suddenly, trade may diminish in value as a workable global formula.
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings--
With those who shaped him to the thing he is--
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?
Collectively, we must come to the realization that business-as-usual formulas are simply not going to be enough, anymore. For the oceans in a climate-defined future, even revolution comes across as a simplistic approach that often throws out the baby with the bathwater. The real opportunity here is to take the world toward renaissance. When looked at through that mindset, being first-to-market with a spectrum of solutions, suddenly emerges as a truly exciting prospect. This is the future we must create.
There is much debate over what a climate-defined future may look like. One thing for sure, it will be complex, non-linear and certainly highly variable. The mix of climate manifestations, and feedback loops, will be very site-specific. To take this from potential chaos to manageable complexity, the right investments must be made now. This is yet another part of the new opportunity. To effectively build resilience, reduce downtime, boost competitiveness, and sustain socio-economic viability, we must invest in redundancies. Does it sound expensive? What is the alternative? If it is our ambition to avoid the fate of Sisyphus, each economy will need to craft Plan B, Plan C and Plan D. This is not a “cut and paste” deal. There is no silver bullet. The most important questions will start with two words: “what if”.
Conservation is not preservation. It is sustainable use. If we are to come to grips with sustainable oceans in a climate-defined future, then we must invest in strengthening the chains that link source to use, supply to demand, today to tomorrow.
Will local enforcement or international arbitration be enough? Will violence or military posturing achieve anything substantial? Let’s face it. It is not going to be simple, nor cheap, but the people of the world have to learn how to work together, sharing the joy and the benefits of co-creation. More than that, and this is going to be the most difficult part, we have to learn how to live together.
Ultimately, we only have one planet, and one future.