NAIROBI – The standard, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has become a development cliché to measure economic performance.

The inaugural Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya this week discussed how to harness global water resources in a sustainable way to boost development in line with the Sustainable Development Goal #14.6 on conserving and sustainably using oceans, seas and marine sources. Also discussed was the how the blue economy can deliver on better livelihoods for people depended on the exploitation of the marine resources.

But what is the purpose of the blue economy and how do we achieve the best policies to grow the blue economy and for whom? Yannick Beaudoin, director general of Ontario and Northern Canada at the David Suzuki Foundation, posed these questions at a session on managing and sustaining of marine life.

IPS caught up with Beaudoin to talk about the relevance of GDP as a value system in the context of the blue economy. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): Is GDP overrated?

YB: The most powerful number in the world is GDP but GDP is not about well-being. GDP was created at a time it was delivering a specific purpose, those times have changed. Our planet has changed and our societies have changed. We are using something that is no longer designed to accommodate changes. It is not that GDP as an economic matrix is irrelevant, it is just that we have moved on and it has not.

IPS: What could be a new model to GDP?

YB: There are many schools of thought. We have to show that we can create a new economic model that includes planet and people in core face. There are sociological economics, the Herman Daly school of economics among others but we need to walk through and ask what is the purpose, what do you want to do as a country, as a nation in measuring the relevance. So when I look at the old GDP right now and the pursuit of national product, I look at the global south – I hate to use the label global south, but what I mean is that this measure has been imposed. It did not come from the global south it was imposed on it. What will happen if we said we no longer want that pursuit anymore and we want this one, we want an African pursuit, we want a Caribbean pursuit what will happen? We have to unleash the creativity in the conversation about GDP.

IPS: You described GDP as Gross Domestic Problems, how then can this problem of value become a solution when we talk about the blue economy?

YB: The starting point is we need to start recognising, as nations, that pushing GDP as a national policy first is no longer relevant. We need to agree as countries of the world that GDP has done its job and we need to move to something else. Whatever that something else is, I am not saying, I have a solution. But learning from history, how did GDP become so powerful? We institutionalised it. We had a whole series of institutions built around it, so if we want that transition we probably need a series of institutions designed to facilitate that transition. We do not have that yet. We need that so we are able to focus the values for the blue economy we want.

IPS: So we need a new value system for development?

YB: Yes. It is about aligning our mathematics, which is the economics with our actual value system as human beings. If I say we really value a beautiful clean ocean as a priority, then we need to have a policy value system that reflects that. Right now, we have a reverse. We have a system designed convert nature as effectively as possible without ensuring well-being of the people and the planet.

IPS: You have cited Bhutan as an example an alternative value system, what can we learn from them?

YB: Bhutan devised its own system, the Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure development and alternative indicator for GDP. The biggest lesson to from Bhutan is if you want to do it differently, you can. Therefore, it is not to say their system can easily be put on to another country. They have a complete cultural background of Buddhist economics. Buddhism for them has influenced what they measure as economic performance. The lesson to learn is, you do not copy and paste GNH. If you want to as a country, you can have your own way. If you say we want to do blue economy for these reasons and you list those reasons, then you say what tools are needed to reach those goals other than a very abstract thing like national product.