As the UN Ocean Conference convenes, it’s important to acknowledge that the future of the ocean and human prosperity are inextricably intertwined. Although the vast and diverse, the ocean economy is “out of sight and out of mind” for many, even though a broad range of ocean-related economic activities provide critical goods and services to the whole of humanity.
The international community recognized these links when it crafted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The preamble to Agenda 2030 includes a focus on prosperity, ensuring that “all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.” SDG 14 more specifically concentrates on the need to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
A brief look at the business end of the blue planet highlights just how big a role the ocean economy plays in supporting prosperity and sustainable development through:
- Healthy protein from fisheries for millions, especially in developing island and coastal countries, with an estimated 1-3 million fishing vessels around the world;
- An increasing amount of food from aquaculture, which has been growing 7% per year in recent decades and is now producing 50% of seafood;
- Subsistence and artisanal fisheries that supply essential food and livelihood for millions, especially in developing island and coastal countries;
- Over 90% of international trade through cost- and carbon-efficient shipping via 80,000+ merchant vessels crisscrossing the globe;
- Ports and coastal infrastructure that all countries depend on for trade and economic development;
- Offshore energy resources that supply a rapidly increasing amount of low carbon wind energy, the promise of major wave, current and tidal energy, and up to 30% of hydrocarbons;
- About 98% of international telecommunications, carried on more than one million km of submarine cables;
- Recreation and tourism options for every ocean interest, with cruise tourism growing at 8.5 % per year in recent decades;
- Desalinated seawater to support coastal cities, with desalination supplying 90% of the freshwater in some countries;
- Innovation and technology to discover and document biodiversity discoveries and ecosystem secrets in the deepest darkest corners, furthest reaches and extreme conditions of planet ocean; and
- Many other services and processes that sustain our modern life and growing populations around the world.
However, human use of the ocean and its resources, along with increasingly impactful land-based activities, is affecting ocean health and sustainability.
Ocean industries operate in a fluid, three-dimensional, interconnected ocean space. This means industry’s activities, responsibilities, and impacts are also linked – as must be industry’s endeavors towards sustainable development. The best efforts by a single company or even a whole industry sector will not be enough to secure ocean health and productivity into the future.
This creates a compelling business case for industry leadership and collaboration in tackling ocean sustainability, stewardship and science. Achieving the SDGs means other stakeholders must engage with the leadership of companies and industries that are working to conduct their business in a manner compatible with the balanced environmental and economic needs of the local communities and global ocean in which they operate.
To foster and accelerate “Corporate Ocean Responsibility,” an increasing number and range of ocean industry companies from around the world are distinguishing themselves by joining the World Ocean Council (WOC).