Investing in sustainable ocean-based activities, including ending overfishing, restoring mangroves and building offshore wind, would be an economically efficient means of coastal states recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report from the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The report finds ending overfishing by reforming subsidies and creating sustainable aquaculture through greater regulation would generate benefits of $6.7tn over the next 30 years. Restoring mangroves on tropical coastlines would return $3 for every $1 spent, and offshore wind investors can generate $17 on every $1 spent under the right conditions, the report said.
Why does this matter? There has been much talk of the importance of a “green recovery” from Covid-19, with leading economists highlighting how green investment would be the most effective means of stimulating economies emerging from the pandemic. When it comes to coastal states, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy highlights the economic returns that would come from investing in a “bluer” ocean. The panel’s recent report finds that reforming subsidies to end overfishing and investing in sustainable aquaculture would generate benefits of $6.7tn over the next 30 years, or around $10 in benefits for every $1 spent. For states with tropical coastlines, restoring mangroves would generate jobs and return $3 for every $1 spent from enhanced fisheries and greater storm protection. From a marine energy perspective, offshore wind investors can generate $17 on every $1 spent under the right conditions, according to the analysis. Decarbonising international shipping can also reap long-term rewards, with shifting to greener fuels returning $2 to $5 on every $1 spent over the next three decades. While the report has long time horizons, the authors point to benefits for certain investments beginning to accrue over the next five years. Others point to the opportunities a “green-blue” recovery can bring. In the US, the Ocean Climate Action Plan has outlined a “Blue New Deal” that can aid ocean health while generating prosperity, addressing inequality and tackling climate change. In the EU, the European Commission’s Blue Economy Report highlights the sector’s importance and potential contribution to the bloc’s green recovery plans. It talks about the continued decoupling of aquaculture and fisheries growth and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as emissions-reduction progress in the maritime sector and the large potential for “blue jobs”. The Economist Group’s World Ocean Initiative (WOI) points to the substantial level of blue finance needed to build out offshore wind farms, transition to greener shipping and restore coastal ecosystems. However, the WOI highlights that, while there is investor interest in financing ocean sustainability, redirecting existing capital and attracting new private finance is hindered by a lack of understanding of blue finance risks and opportunities. Despite this enthusiasm, it’s been highlighted that government coronavirus stimulus packages worldwide are still heavily fossil fuel-focused, and analysis indicates only 1% of approved stimulus spending is supporting sustainability or climate-friendly initiatives. With international talks on hold, and the window of opportunity for action on ocean health narrowing, touting the economic benefits of a blue recovery could help shift the tide.