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What is the blue economy?

  • Published at 03:32 pm August 22nd, 2019
Blue economy
A concept for the near-future Bigstock

Can the strategy be a roadmap for Bangladesh’s economic journey? This is the first part of a two-part op-ed

There is a widespread misconception that a rising sea-level with global warming will overwhelm Bangladesh’s coastal area and will thereby displace as many as 10–30 million people in the 21st century. In some accounts, that situation will be aggravated by high rates of land subsidence, doubling of the rate of sea-level rise, and rapid, on-going rates of coastal erosion. 

The accounts given to-date imply that the Bangladeshi people are helpless against a rising sea-level and will be unable to resist the rising water. Those assumptions and descriptions are incorrect. 

Bangladesh’s coastal area is not uniform, nor is it static. It is dynamic, and so are the people of Bangladesh. It is estimated that Bangladesh has acquired 118,813 square kilometres of the Bay of Bengal. The areas of resources include 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone and over 354 nautical miles of resources on seabed (continental shelf). It is estimated that the resources from the sea of Bangladesh constitute 81% of the resources existing in its land territory. 

Environmental scientists have an important role to play in establishing environmental facts in order to identify practical, area-specific, mitigation measures to counter realistically-probable impacts of sea-level rise in different geographical regions. This account illustrates the kinds of information on geomorphology, hydrology, soils, land use, and socio-economic geography that are needed to provide a sound basis for planning area-specific measures to counter sea-level rise in low-lying coastal areas elsewhere in the world.

The “blue economy” is an emerging concept which encourages better management of our ocean or “blue” resources. It underpins the thinking behind the Commonwealth Blue Charter, highlighting in particular the close linkages between the ocean, climate change, and the well-being of the people of the Commonwealth. 

At its heart, it reaffirms the values of the Commonwealth, including equity and public participation in marine and coastal decision-making. It supports all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG14 “life below water,” and recognizes that this will require ambitious, coordinated actions to sustainably manage, protect, and preserve our ocean now, for the sake of present and future generations. 

Similar to the green economy, the blue economy model aims for improvement of human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It provides for an inclusive model in which coastal states -- which sometimes lack the capacity to manage their rich ocean resources -- can begin to extend the benefit of those resources to all. 

Realizing the full potential of the blue economy means inclusion and participation of all affected social groups and sectors. The worldwide ocean economy is valued at around $1.5 trillion per year. 80% of global trade by volume is carried by sea. 350 million jobs worldwide are linked to fisheries. By 2025, it is estimated that 34% of crude oil production will come from offshore fields. Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector and provides about 50% of fish for human consumption. 

On top of the traditional ocean activities such as fisheries, tourism, and maritime transport, blue economy entails emerging industries, including renewable energy, aquaculture, seabed extractive activities, and marine biotechnology and bio-prospecting. Blue economy also attempts to embrace ocean eco-system services that are not captured by the market but provide significant contribution to economic and human activity. They include carbon sequestration, coastal protection, waste disposal, and the existence of bio-diversity.

Fisheries are now overexploited, but there is still plenty of room for aquaculture and offshore wind power. Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector and is vital to food security of the poorest countries. Only in the European Union, the blue economy employed over 3 million people in 2014. 

As for terrestrial ecosystems, marine ecosystems can only provide their myriad ecosystem services to humanity if they are governed and managed sustainably through an effective ocean and coastal governance. UNDP’s Ocean Governance Program works towards helping countries achieve this -- from the local level through initiatives like the Global Environmental Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Program, to regional efforts such as UNDP’s Large Marine Ecosystems program, and global efforts on sustainable shipping in cooperation with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and GEF. 

In the simplest terms, there are two elements for the blue economy. The first is the necessity of protecting -- and restoring where needed -- the existing ocean resource base that already supplies food and livelihoods to billions of people. Depleted fish stocks that are permitted to recover can ultimately deliver higher, sustainable fish yields and associated jobs. 

If protected and restored, coastal eco-systems such as coral reefs and mangroves can deliver increased coastal protection benefits from storm surges and sea level rise. Coastal areas that reduce nutrient pollution and eliminate hypoxic areas can, in turn, enjoy higher fish yields and increased tourism revenue. 

The other side of the blue economy is where opportunities may exist for enhanced or new sustainable economic activity derived from the ocean. Progress and prospects for ocean-related energy, such as offshore wind and tidal energy, appear promising. Opportunities also exist to “monetize” the value of highly effective coastal carbon stocks into carbon finance markets, or “blue carbon.” 

Globally, aquaculture has been growing at a compounded rate of almost 9% since 1980, and now supplies nearly half of the world’s consumed fish protein. However, much of it remains unsustainable in terms of pollution and impacts on species diversity, making this a critical blue economy opportunity to introduce more sustainable practices, such as integrated multi-trophic aquaculture. With support from GEF and UNDP, the global shipping sector are taking pro-active steps to minimize the sector’s contribution to climate change through improved energy efficiency, which can, in turn, enhance the sector’s profitability, a true blue economy approach.

Masihul Haq Chowdhury is Managing Director and CEO, Community Bank Bangladesh Limited.