Pandemic has curbed pressure on the world’s oceans, but new policies are needed if the positive changes are to last.
  • COVID-19 quarantines have led to less pressure on the world’s oceans, and new policies will be needed if the positive changes are not to be quickly reversed once the pandemic eases.
  • While the seed money for projects comes from governments and multinational lenders, private investment is needed to bring about a blue economy.
  • The next 10 years might be the last chance to prevent the ecological collapse of the world’s oceans, so action must be taken at all levels of government and society, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

Pressure on the world’s ocean ecosystem eased because of the COVID-19 quarantines, but these gains will be quickly reversed if funding isn’t increased and new regulations aren’t put in place.

The World Economic Forum thought that the hiatus caused by pandemic was an ideal time to hold the Sustainable Blue Economy virtual summit, which looks at the changes needed to improve the health of the world’s bodies of water while still providing for the millions of people who depend on them for their livelihoods. The speakers at the “Finance and the Sustainable Blue Economy” session agreed that greater government and private investment, along with better regulations and enforcement, will be needed to meet the challenge.

“The global ocean crisis not only risks the future benefits that society derives from the ocean itself, it also threatens life on earth as we know it today,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said in the session. “So, the next 10 years might be our last window of opportunity to prevent the ecological collapse of the world’s ocean.”

Ocean assets are valued at $24 trillion, but dwindling fast because of overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change, the World Wildlife Federation said back in 2015. Ecological pressure has increased in the last five years. The drop in economic activity due to COVID-19 has curbed air and water pollution, but this has been at great cost for those who lost their livelihoods.

“COVID-19 is steadily rippling through the $2.5 trillion blue economy,” Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, said. “Emissions from maritime travel are falling, overfishing is relenting, and aquatic life is gradually returning to cleaner and quieter lakes, beaches, rivers and seas. While we look for solace in times of great strife, I can’t take much comfort from these fleeting signs of progress, not when some are hellbent on returning to the status quo.”

The struggle to maintain these gains and make further progress will be led by governments and development banks, but will need the cooperation of the private sector if they are to be successful, Gurria said. Ingrid Van Wees of the Asia Development Bank and Emma Navarro Aguilera of the European Investment Bank said that their organizations are investing in a sustainable blue economy and trying to leverage greater spending from the private sector.

“In Europe, we talk about a green recovery, but we cannot forget that it needs to be blue and green — both things are very important,” Aguilera said.

There has been a great deal of innovation in financing a sustainable blue economy since the first UN Oceans Conference in 2017, according Geoff Cutmore, a CNBC business journalist, who led the session.

“We’ve had the first-ever sovereign blue bond in the Seychelles, the emergence of blended finance methods, such as the mixing of private and public capital, a growing number of venture capital and impact investment firms focused specifically on the ocean are increasingly getting involved in ESG issues,” Cutmore said.

Investors should take ESG criteria into consideration when investing, not just because it’s altruistic, but because it makes economic sense, according to John J. Haley, the CEO of Willis Towers Watson, a global risk-management and advisory company.

“There is quite a dividend that one can get from building resilience from the beginning, and the dividend is not something that you have to wait a long time for it to pay off; this is a dividend that you can get even in the short and intermediate term,” Haley said. “The problem we have is that the standard investment models we use today don’t take account of say climate change or some of these other impacts, so investment in resilience is just seen as an extra cost rather than a benefit.”