Countries must do more to ensure sustainable development of ocean activities

Countries need to work together to defend the ocean from a steady rise in temperature, pollution and overfishing that threatens its ability to continue supporting marine life and providing food and income to billions of people, according to a new OECD report.

Sustainable Ocean for All: Harnessing the benefits of sustainable ocean economies for developing countries says that with ocean-related economic sectors forecast to grow rapidly over the next decade, ensuring this development takes place in a sustainable way is critical.

While the COVID-19 crisis is hurting key ocean-based sectors, such as tourism and shipping, demands on marine resources for food, energy, minerals, transport, tourism and leisure will persist as the global population grows towards an expected 9 billion by 2050. If managed sustainably, the ocean could have the capacity to regenerate, be more productive, and support more prosperous societies. This will require governments to support those sectors less equipped to foster sustainable ocean economies by facilitating their access to finance and policy evidence.

“More than 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, and we are all dependent on it for supporting ecosystems, providing food and regulating the climate. Yet human activity is causing long-lasting and in some cases irreversible damage to it,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “It is crucial that we invest in ocean-related sectors in a way that fosters environmental and economic sustainability and puts people’s well-being at the centre, especially as we shape the recovery from COVID-19.”

Noting that the poorest countries tend to be both the most exposed to the effects of ocean degradation and the least equipped to respond, the report calls for co-ordinated action and more effective international development co-operation to improve sustainability of the ocean economy. The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, starting in 2021, should foster greater use of science and innovation to develop sustainable practices in a post-COVID world.

The report calls on all countries to phase out government support for environmentally harmful economic activities and use instruments like fees, charges, taxes and tradable permits to discourage over-exploitation, pollution and greenhouse emissions and encourage conservation and sustainable development of ocean activities. Such instruments can also generate much-needed financing for ocean sustainability. Taxes relevant to ocean sustainability – in particular taxes on ocean-related pollution, transport and energy -generated at least USD 4 billion globally in 2018.

The report’s analysis of six ocean-based industries (fishing, fish farming, fish processing, shipbuilding, maritime passenger transport, and freight shipping) shows that they contributed to more than 11% of GDP in lower middle-income countries and 6% of GDP in low-income countries in 2015, compared to less than 2% of GDP for high-income countries. In some low-income or island states, key ocean-based sectors like tourism can account for over 20% of GDP.

This reliance leaves developing countries highly exposed to the risks of deteriorating marine ecosystems, yet less than 1% of foreign aid is spent on conserving marine ecosystems and improving sustainability of ocean-related economic activities. The USD 3 billion in official development assistance (ODA) that was allocated on average to ocean activities annually over 2013-18 has tended to focus on expanding activities like ports or shipping without including efforts to improve sustainability.

Well-designed financing is essential to achieving sustainable ocean economies, yet data on ocean finance is scarce, and it is unclear how much of it contributes to sustainability. To help fill this gap, the report measures global development finance for the sustainable ocean economy and looks at private finance mobilised by ODA for ocean activities. It calls for environmental and social sustainability criteria relating to the ocean economy to be integrated into traditional financial services and investments, financial markets and credit markets.

Read the report Sustainable Ocean for All: Harnessing the benefits of sustainable ocean economies for developing countries.

Access the OECD platform on development finance for sustainable ocean economies

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