Guidelines for going ‘Blue’ | WWF
Guidelines for going ‘Blue’

Posted on 26 June 2017

At the recent World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the urgent need for a sustainable approach to the ‘Blue Economy’ was underscored, and the WWF delegation proposed some clear steps to get it going. Here are some highlights from the event.
At the recent World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the urgent need for a sustainable approach to the ‘Blue Economy’ was underscored, and the WWF delegation proposed some clear steps to get it going. Here are some highlights from the event

The importance and opportunity of investing responsibly in the Blue Economy, and complementing sustainable marine resource use with effective governance, were some key points addressed at the fourth World Ocean Summit (WOS), held last February 22-24 in Bali, Indonesia.

More than 360 attendees from business, government, nongovernment organisations, private foundations, and other public and private entities came to hear speakers discuss such questions as how to finance the Blue Economy, what are the opportunities and risks, and what investment frameworks are required.

The WWF delegation to the WOS was led by Brad Ack, WWF-US Vice President for Oceans, and Paul Gamblin, Oceans Practice Communications Manager, who were joined by a number of WWF colleagues from across the globe: Wawan Ridwan, Coral Triangle Programme Director-WWF Indonesia; Abdullah Habibi, FIP/AIP Manager, Coral Triangle Programme-WWF Indonesia; Louise Heaps, Chief Advisor, Marine, WWF-UK; Pauli Merriman, Director, Baltic Ecoregion Programme; Geoffrey Muldoon, Senior Manager, Business & Industry, WWF Coral Triangle Programme; Bubba Cook, Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager; Gabby Ahmadia, Senior Marine Scientist, WWF-US; and Cassie O’Connor, Manager, Foundation Relations, WWF-US.

Ack led WWF’s presentation with the “Roadmap for the Development of a Sustainable Blue Economy Protocol,” formulated by WWF in February 2017 to galvanise interest and cultivate collaborations related to ensuring that future investments in the Blue Economy can sustainably support livelihoods, food security, and jobs, as well as ocean health, well into the future.

Compared to the last WOS in 2015, participants in this summit reportedly expressed greater concern over declining ocean assets instead of focusing solely on economics. “Following the wisdom of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by all nations in 2015, we need to ensure that our economic use of the seas also leads to their long-term conservation, and indeed their restoration,” notes Gamblin. “This sentiment was echoed by the participants, especially the finance sector, which recognized the fact that the oceans are under severe threat, potentially affecting their bottom line.”

The Blue Economy, defined in the draft roadmap as “the economic benefit and value we realize from the Earth’s oceans and coastlines,” is estimated to generate US$2.5 trillion per year from fishing and aquaculture, shipping, tourism, and other activities, according to the WWF document “Reviving the Ocean Economy: The Case for Action—2015.” Director of WWF’s Baltic Ecoregion Programme Pauli Merriman said, “The protocol builds upon WWF’s Principles for a Sustainable Blue Economy, and is intended to help facilitate the adoption of this approach into global business practices as well as investment and development policy. We are seeking input on this process over the next months from thought-leaders from across all sectors.”

Seven-step process

The protocol also proposes a seven-step process:
  1. Identifying viable and long-term investment opportunities;
  2. Assessing an investment’s economic risks and impacts;
  3. Assessing social and environmental impacts;
  4. Reviewing impacts on other aspects of sustainable development;
  5. Reviewing the option and identifying alternatives;
  6. Engaging stakeholders in implementation; and
  7. Monitoring, evaluating, adapting, and sharing what is learned.
“It’s standard practice to look at investment through the lens of ‘risk,’” notes the WWF Coral Triangle Programme’s Dr Geoffrey Muldoon. “In terms of innovative and new ideas and opportunities, there will always be ‘first movers,’ who take more risks, after which more adopters come on board. There are advantages and disadvantages to being first movers, but those that move first will see the benefits in their doing so.”

Despite this, companies should not consider investment in a Blue Economy as too big a risk, especially when partnerships are involved. “There will be companies who are not overwhelmed by the size of the investment needed, and associated risk. Regardless, partnerships between companies will be what brings the biggest changes and rewards, thus making the investment seem more realisable."

The clamour for sustainable Blue Economy approaches and guidelines, and the need for “a new financial architecture specific to oceans,” was evident at the WOS where support by the audience in an online poll reached almost 70 per cent. Participants also expressed a view that, given the alarming state of decline of marine resources, the need to establish a Blue Economy approach was more urgent than ever before, reports Merriman.

And what exactly is this new architecture? “Financial markets, lending, and investment practices must facilitate a transition to a net-zero emissions world, and deliver environmental benefits and support sustainable development,” says WWF-UK’s Louise Heaps. “Without this, there is a very real possibility that development and use of our Blue Economy and its resources will continue along a path of unsustainability.” While progress has been made in green finance, for example, only a small percentage of bank loans are classified as truly “green.” “Given the threats we now face, there is a tremendous need to scale up financial flows and guide blue and green investments and development toward sustainability. ‘Greening’ or ‘Blueing’ at the margins will simply not suffice.”

The $2.5 trillion per year generated by a Blue Economy should convince even more businesses to join in, notes Heaps. “These figures, however, and all the food, employment, and livelihoods that they represent, are not guaranteed if we do not act now to ensure long-term sustainability. Our oceans are moving deeper into ecological crisis at a time when we need them more than ever.”

To get a clear view of the need for a sustainable Blue Economy, we will need to step back and get “a big-picture understanding of the whole system,” Merriman asserts. “We need clear definitions of what constitute blue economy actions and behaviors that can be translated into operational and measurable goals and targets, so that we can determine whether the growth strategies that are being pursued are actually taking us in the right direction. Without a framework, we risk undermining the very possibility of long-term growth and development.”

Dirty work

The summit also brought up the economic case for controlling and managing pollution. Legal frameworks will help ensure equal stakes—that is, that everybody participates in the dirty work. Dr Muldoon identified the problem of the “free rider”—in this case, “someone who pollutes but does not pay their way, and instead gets a free ride off the investment of others,” he says. A tax-based approach can provide built-in control of pollutants, Dr Muldoon says. “We see them now all around us in emission taxes paid by factories, car manufacturers, and of course, the big one, the carbon tax. The idea is that taxes, if high enough, will encourage investment in cleaner technology and control of emissions and discharges, because it makes more sense to invest than pay the tax. Any market-based approach, however, needs to operate within a strong legislative framework and effective regulation. Bottom line is, the tools and approaches are all there. It’s implementation and enforcement that need to happen.”

As nations with large coastal populations, Coral Triangle countries are more dependent on marine resources than many others, with these resources being critical for subsistence. However, even for those countries whose ocean dependence is alleviated by their having more diverse economies, commitments from their governments or corporations are indispensable when it comes to the bigger picture around trade and a global economy. Dr Muldoon makes the point that “many ocean resources are traded, so it is as much in the interests of those countries, usually more developed, with lower or indirect dependence on ocean resources, to protect ocean assets, as it is for those whose dependence on these assets is very high. In a global economy, there is global responsibility,” he concludes.

“Fortunately, many governments, organizations, and communities—coastal and inland—are becoming aware of the need for a more coherent, integrated, fair, and science-based approach to managing the economic development of the oceans,” says WWF-Indonesia’s Wawan Ridwan. “We are an integral part of the marine ecosystem, and we must plan and implement our economic activities with care, balancing the desire to improve human living standards and wellbeing with the imperative to sustain ecosystem health. This is a message that WWF and others have championed, and which must continue ‘upstream’ for those who may not be aware of the enormous extent to which our societies and our economies are fully dependent on the ocean.”

WWF was delighted that Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, expressed his interest in working with WWF and the Prince of Wales' Charities International Sustainability Unit to take forward a process to bring together public and private financing institutions and other stakeholders around principles for sustainable investment in the blue economy. These discussions were continued at the  the UN Oceans Conference held earlier in June, and will continue and expand at the Our Ocean conference in October.
Fisherman holding fish in his hands
© WWF-US / James Morgan