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Opinion

The Blue Economy for the Blue Planet

Cameron Diver is the Deputy Director-General of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Sea level rise threatens Raolo island in the Solomon Islands. The ongoing negative effects of climate change, inadequate agricultural, industrial and household waste management, to name but a few, all threaten and undermine the promise of the Blue Economy. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

NEW CALEDONIA, Nov 20 2018 (IPS) - We live on a “blue planet” where water covers around 75 percent of the Earth’s surface. Without water we would simply not survive as a species. As we strive to find pathways to and take action for inclusive sustainable development, we must ensure that our ocean, our seas, rivers, lakes, waterways and wetlands, together with their invaluable biodiversity, are preserved, sustainably used and integrated into development programming.

Above all, we should understand, value and harness these natural pillars of the Blue Economy as answers to many development challenges, as solutions to help us achieve the ambition of the Paris Agreement, deliver a new deal for nature and people, and reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Blue Economy has enormous potential as a driver of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection, but it is also faced with immense challenges.

The ongoing negative effects of climate change, inadequate agricultural, industrial and household waste management, plastic and chemical pollution, corruption and lack of robust water governance mechanisms, the alarming rate of biodiversity loss in global ecosystems and sometimes wilful ignorance of scientific evidence and advice, to name but a few, all threaten and undermine the promise of the Blue Economy.

There are inspiring examples worldwide of action to clean up waterways, restore habitat and create clean environments for economic and recreational activities. But you don’t have to be a wealthy developed country to share the same ambition or achieve similar outcomes.

Here are just a few examples from the Pacific region, whose large ocean/small island states are taking up the challenge, all the while dealing with the immediate impact of climate change, natural disasters and the very real tyranny of distance.

The Pacific Islands are uniquely vulnerable to the environmental impacts of maritime transport due to their reliance on shipping and the fact that many ports in island contexts are located both in the main urban area and in fragile coastal ecosystems like lagoons.

Through programmes like our Green Pacific Port initiative my organisation, the Pacific Community, is helping its Member States address these issues through improved efforts to increase port energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint, and enhanced environmental management including marine pollution and waste management.

In the tiny archipelago of Wallis and Futuna, the issue of used oils, batteries and saturated landfill was prioritised by local authorities due to its potential repercussions on the quality of the aquifer, lagoon and coastal water, and of course marine biodiversity.

Working alongside local communities and decision makers, our teams contributed to developing multiple measures to remove hazardous waste from the islands. A viable export business was set up to process this type of waste and, on the island of Futuna, the landfill was closed and underwent site remediation.

In the agriculture sector Pacific Island countries are also tackling threats to soil quality, plant life and water resources. In Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Samoa we are helping develop and implement innovative approaches using soft chemicals and biocides to target specific pests and diseases without affecting other forms of biodiversity and significantly lessening the environmental impact.

Alongside other partners, the Pacific Community contributed to the 2018 Pacific Marine Climate Change Report Card. The Report Card provides an easy to access summary of climate change impacts on coasts and seas in the Pacific region.

It also highlights the critical nexus between the ocean and climate change and underscores the significant threat that deteriorating marine and coastal biodiversity would present for livelihoods, health, culture, wellbeing and infrastructure.

It also proposes are range of responses Pacific Islands can adopt such as: building resilience to unavoidable climate change impacts on coral reefs, mangroves and seas grass by reducing non-climate threats and introducing protected areas; working with communities to diversify fisheries livelihoods and restore and preserve fish habitats; optimising the sustainable economic benefits from tuna through regional management.

For the large ocean/small island States of the Pacific region the ocean is at the heart of their identity: “We are the sea, we are the ocean, we must wake up to this ancient truth”. Through the Blue Pacific narrative, Oceania’s Leaders seek to harness the potential of Pacific peoples’ shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean based on an explicit recognition of their shared ocean identity, ocean geography, and ocean resources.

The Blue Economy must therefore contribute to the Blue Pacific identity and help fulfil a higher ambition for regionalism and sustainable development based first and foremost on the deep-rooted bond between the peoples of the Pacific, the land, the ocean and biodiversity.

In this context, the Pacific Community and our partners provide scientific and technical expertise and advice for evidence-based policy making and sustainable solutions tailored to the needs of the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories. Globally, as in the Pacific, we must ensure that the Blue Economy is more than a slogan, more than a concept encouraging sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth.

It must become a concrete reality where decisions are informed by science and the best available evidence. We must use the Blue Economy so that nature and the environment are not sacrificed for short-term political or economic gain but leveraged for long-term sustainable growth and development.

We must truly transform the promise of the Blue Economy from the page and the conference hall to tangible and integrated climate action, ocean action and biodiversity action to guarantee a sustainable future for our planet and, as a consequence, ourselves.

 
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