UNEP: Clean up of the world’s oceans could boost economy

By RTCC Staff

The UNEP report shows that fish stocks are under increasing pressure (source: peteoshea/flickr)

Healthy seas and coasts would help to boost the economy, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

The report ‘Green Economy in a Blue World’ – produced with several other organisations – highlights the huge potential of the marine sector not only to help boost economic growth, but alleviate poverty and lower pollution.

Released five months before the Rio +20 conference on sustainable development, the report warns that the world’s transition to a low-carbon, Green Economy would not be possible unless the seas and oceans play a key part in the transformation.

“Oceans are a key pillar for many countries in their development and fight to tackle poverty,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “But the wide range of ecosystem services, including food security and climate regulation, provided by the marine and coastal environments are today under unprecedented pressure.”

The Blue World

With a much as 40% of the population living within 100km of the coast the ‘Blue World’ (as termed in the report) provides essential food, shelter and livelihoods to millions of people.

But human impacts are taking their toll on the oceans.

Around 60% of tropical coral reefs are under immediate threat, 20% of mangroves (trees and shrubs grown in saline coastal habitats) have been destroyed and 50% of the world’s fish stocks have been fully exploited with another 30% either over-exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion.

“Stepping up green investment in marine and coastal resources and enhancing international cooperation in managing these trans-boundary ecosystems are essential if a transition to a low-carbon, resource efficient Green Economy is to be realised,” said Steiner.

“In the run-up to Rio+20, this report shows that a shift to a Green Economy can, if comprehensively implemented, unlock the potential of marine ecosystems to fuel economic growth – particularly in small island states – but in ways that ensure that future generations derive an equitable share of marine resources and services.”

Cleaning up the oceans

Coral oceans UNEP NOAA

A marine biologist repairs damaged coral in Florida (Source: Flickr/NOAA/National Ocean Service)

The report, launched at the Global Conference of Land/Ocean Connections in the Philippines, lays out recommendations across six-marine based economic sectors.

Estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Bank suggest that by restoring fish stocks and reducing fishing capacity the world economy could gain $50 billion annually.

Adoption of fuel-efficient fishing methods and aquaculture using environmentally-friendly feeds would lower the industry’s carbon footprint, according to the report.

It also argues that the shipping industry could do more. Currently responsible for 3-5% of global emissions – set to increase substantially during the century – by supporting standards, switching to environmentally sound fuels and addressing technical, environment and operational aspects of increasing ships size, the industry could reduce its impact.

Oceanic energy

Accounting for just 1% of renewable energy in 2008, the report argues that marine-based renewable energy (wind, wave and tidal) has huge potential. Greater financial incentives are called for to encourage private sector investment, develop more plants and drive costs down.

The amount of nitrogen reaching oceans has increased three-fold compared to pre-industrial levels, mainly due to agricultural run-off and untreated sewage, and could rise by 2.7 times by 2050 under business as usual, according to the report.

It says these this can be reduced with subsidies encouraging nutrient recycling, and stricter regulations.

If managed well, the report states that deep-sea mining for minerals could be a possible new revenue stream to boost the world’s economy. However, it warns that the deep sea is a largely unknown environment and mining must take place based on sound science and environmental best practice.

While tourism represents 5% of global GDP and 6-7% of total employment, research shows that more than a third of travellers favour environmentally friendly tourism.

UNEP believes there is considerable potential for creating more green jobs in the tourism sector.

The report was a joint project by UNEP, the United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation, the United Nations Departments of Economic and Social Affairs, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Fish Center ad GRID-Arendal.

Read the full UNEP report here.

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