Ocean-based industries are worth at least 3.5% of global GDP, a value the OECD predicted will double by 2030. More than three billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods and more than 350 million jobs are linked to the ocean worldwide.
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting this ocean economy in peril. Productivity and output across tourism, shipping and fisheries are down and job loss is high. Many employed in ocean-based sectors are women and low-wage earners, so the social impacts are considerable. Debt is rising across the ocean economy, while small businesses struggle to stay afloat. Pressure to roll back environmental policies will likely increase, further compromising long-term recovery and economic benefits.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has not changed the severity of threats facing the ocean itself. In some cases, it has intensified them. Climate change, overfishing, pollution and biodiversity loss were eroding the ocean’s ability to sustain livelihoods before the coronavirus pandemic. Now more than ever, we need a healthy ocean to provide the key ecosystem services and benefits crucial for a sustainable future.
The encouraging news is that there are solutions that can improve our ocean while growing economies. A sustainable ocean economy — premised on effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity — should be at the heart of building back better in the wake of COVID-19.
A new analysis commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) shows that every $1 invested in sustainable ocean solutions yields at least $5 in return. Specifically, investing $2 trillion - $3.7 trillion globally across four key areas — conserving and restoring mangrove habitats, scaling up offshore wind production, decarbonizing international shipping and increasing the production of sustainably sourced ocean-based proteins — would generate $10.3 trillion - $26.5 trillion in total benefits from 2020 to 2050. This is a rate of return on investment of 400 - 615% (calculated using the net benefit estimated to be $8.2 trillion - $22.8 trillion over 30 years).
The four sustainable, ocean-based investments analyzed come from a 2019 report commissioned by the Ocean Panel, showing that the ocean can play a major role in addressing climate change. In terms of increasing the sustainable food production, the report states that every $1 invested in increasing the production of sustainably sourced ocean-based proteins is estimated to yield $10 in benefits. Meeting the increased demand for ocean-based protein to provide a healthy diet for 9.7 billion people by 2050 — which would replace a percentage of emissions-intensive, land-based protein sources — can be achieved through reforming fishing and increasing sustainable aquaculture. Both measures will deliver wide-ranging benefits like better consumer health, higher revenues for fishers, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduced land-based conflicts and lower water use. Sustainably scaling up aquaculture will also be key to meeting global food security targets by providing essential nutrition to low- and middle-income countries.
Download the report here.