UN Report Highlights Marine Sector’s Potential for Sustainable Economic Growth


What if we could take better care of the world’s marine ecosystems and boost the global economy in the process? A recent report, Green Economy in a Blue World, released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), WorldFish Center, and GRID-Arendal suggests that by promoting practices such as renewable energy generation, ecotourism, and sustainable fishing, we can improve the health of the world’s marine ecosystems while also boosting their potential to contribute to economic growth.

For each of six marine-related economic sectors, Green Economy in a Blue World lays out a series of recommendations based on the current state of the resource including:

1. Fisheries and Aquaculture

With 50 percent of the world’s fish stocks fully exploited and another 32 percent overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion, aquaculture is growing in popularity as a way to meet the rising global demand for fish. But aquaculture can also be harmful when it is poorly planned, and in such cases it can actually increase stress on suffering marine and coastal ecosystems. Technologies that encourage low-impact and fuel-efficient fishing methods, as well as aquaculture production systems that use environmentally-friendly feeds and reduce fossil fuel use, could reduce the sector’s carbon footprint and strengthen its role in reducing poverty and improving economic growth and food and nutrition security. The report also recommends strengthening regional and national fisheries agencies and community and trade fishing associations to encourage sustainable and equitable use of marine resources. It also suggests that there is a need for policies that ensure that the benefits of these industry improvements also impact small-scale producers and traders, particularly in developing nations.   

2. Marine Transport

Although international shipping is already a relatively safe, secure, efficient, and environmentally sound method of bulk transportation, Green Economy in a Blue World stresses the importance of implementing and enforcing standards, converting ships to environmentally sound fuel sources, preventing the transfer of invasive aquatic species (which often happens via ships’ ballast water or hulls), and addressing the technical, operational, and environmental implications of increasing ship size.

3. Marine-based Renewable Energy

Although marine-based renewable energy, which includes wind, wave and tidal systems, has high potential to significantly contribute to global energy production and green job creation, much of this technology is still in the development phase or facing cost barriers. The report recommends consistent long-term policies that stress specific development targets and governmental financial support for such projects. Governments’ active guidance and encouragement for these developments is essential if the industry is to reduce social, environmental, and legal conflicts and coexist with other marine system users.

4. Ocean Nutrient Pollution

Although fertilizers such as nitrogen and phosphorous can be big contributors to crop yield increases, inefficient use of these products is harming marine ecosystems and groundwater. The report recommends an approach that encourages recovery and recycling of waste nutrients, furthers regulation of nutrient removal from wastewater, mandates nutrient management plans in agriculture, and enhances regulation of manure.

5. Coastal Tourism

Because of an increase in travel and consumer preferences for trips involving further distances, shorter time periods, and more energy-intensive activities, global tourism is becoming a less environmentally sustainable industry. But there are ways for the tourism industry to become more sustainable while also encouraging growth. By pursuing strategies that encourage local product sourcing (such as through sustainable fisheries and agriculture) and protecting local cultures, the coastal tourism industry could grow: according to the report, one job in a core industry creates one and a half jobs in tourism-related sectors, so there is significant potential to boost green tourism jobs while also protecting the environment.

6. Deep-sea Minerals

Deep-sea minerals represent a potential new source of revenue that could support national development goals. This environment is still one of the least understood on the planet, however, so sound science and application of the best environmental practices should be applied to create a management system that recognizes present and future human uses of this environment as well as the ecosystem services it provides.

The report also outlines several more general key steps that can be taken to protect marine and coastal ecosystems and boost the economy. These steps focus on improving waste management, encouraging cooperation between sectors, investing in energy efficiency, and generating cross-sectoral consultation between governments, communities, and businesses, suggesting tangible ways to take advantage of, and protect, some of our world’s greatest resources.

What other strategies do you think could both protect the environment and improve the economy?

By Eleanor Fausold, a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on livestock and sustainability, currently serves as Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental think tank. Her knowledge of factory farming and its global spread and sustainable agriculture has been cited widely in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and
other publications.

Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is currently traveling across Africa looking at innovations that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty and blogging everyday at Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet. She has a regular column with the Mail & Guardian, the Kansas City Star, and the Huffington Post and her writing was been featured in newspapers across Africa including the Cape Town Argus, the Zambia Daily Mail, Coast Week (Kenya), and other African publications. She holds an M.S. in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University and a B.A. in environmental policy from Monmouth College.
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