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MC Explains: How G20’s environment working group and Ocean 20 dialogue are pushing the ‘blue economy’ agenda

G20 deliberations currently ongoing in Mumbai aim to promote sustainable blue economies through advancements in science, technology, and innovation, supported by robust policy frameworks, governance initiatives, and alternative finance mechanisms.

May 24, 2023 / 03:01 PM IST


Blue economy, which is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health, is fast gaining traction. The G20 this year has put a greater focus on the blue economy with deliberations happening at its third Environment and Climate Sustainability Working Group Meeting (ECSWG) currently being held in Mumbai. Here’s what you should know about the importance of the blue economy and the efforts of the G20 under India’s Presidency is making to further the agenda.

What is blue economy?

First mentioned on an international platform at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the blue economy encompasses diverse segments such as renewable energy, fisheries, maritime transport, tourism, climate change and waste management.

The World Bank and United Nations define the blue economy as a ‘concept that seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas.”

‘Ocean economy’, ‘blue economy’, ‘blue growth’ and ‘sustainable ocean-based economy’ are used interchangeably. Blue economies are models that are yet to bloom into fruition, with the G20’s third Environment and Climate Sustainability Working Group Meeting (ECSWG), currently happening in Mumbai, intending to bring more clarity on the topic.

Why is it relevant?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that more than three billion people globally are dependent on marine systems for their revenue, and there is scope to expand that income. Nonetheless, global ecological challenges loom ahead of us. Overfishing, eutrophication, biomagnification and pollution are just some phenomena that threaten to destroy these resources we are dependent on. A ‘blue economy’ would bridge the gap between the use and misuse, thereby serving the economic interests of marine-dependent occupations alongside protecting biodiversity and ecosystems.

Heard of the ‘Oceans 20’ dialogue?

At the third ECSWG in Mumbai, one of the important themes of the committee is the ‘Oceans 20’ dialogue, a series of discussions led by expert panellists. Oceans 20 was initially launched a year ago at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Indonesia as a proposed G20 Engagement Group. On the first day of the ECSWG this year, the Secretary recognised the ‘Oceans 20 Dialogue’ as a ‘clarion call for collective action’. Challenge 4 of the ten Ocean Decade Challenges formulated by the UN Decade for Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in June 2021 aims for the development of a sustainable and equitable ocean economy. Considered a ‘platform for shared knowledge’, the O20 dialogue precedes the 2024 UN Ocean Decade Conference, which will be held in Barcelona.

What are the important themes of ‘Ocean 20’?

The committee looks to work on three key areas. First on the list: science, technology and innovation for blue economies. As we move into opting for cleaner sources of energy, a blue economy model could include blue carbon sequestration, biotechnology, offshore wind energy, offshore aquaculture, seabed mining and marine genetic biotechnology. These techniques are gaining momentum in the markets as technology facilitates the implementation process. Artificial Intelligence and remote sensing softwares now aid in multi-dimensional marine surveying mechanisms, such as marine spatial planning.

The second topic on the agenda is policy and governance initiatives to establish blue economies. Nordic countries such as Denmark and Norway have already established frameworks characteristic of a blue economy. For example, the Green Shipping Programme (GSP), which is a public-private partnership initiated by the Norwegian government. In India too, a draft policy framework on the blue economy was published by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister in September 2020, which outlines guidelines on various undertakings of India’s blue economy.

The third priority on the agenda was establishing finance mechanisms for these ocean economies. Life Below Water was termed as a crucial but underfinanced Sustainable Development Goal, and hence, the committee aims to introduce alternative and blended finance solutions for blue oceans. The World Economic Forum has predicted that investing $2 trillion to $3.7 trillion globally in ocean-based investments by 2050 would yield $8.2 trillion to $22.8 trillion in net benefits, a whopping 450-615 percent rate of return. Hence, ocean economies present an immense possibility for big-bonus investments.

What are the challenges before the blue economy?

A blue economy presents a host of opportunities for both economic and environmental prosperity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the blue Ashok Chakra on the Tricolour is representative of the potential of a ‘Blue Revolution’. As we attempt to drive the country’s agricultural system towards a bluer one, policymakers, as well as individuals, need to ensure that other goals of the 2030 Agenda are not compromised, experts say. Urbanisation and population growth are causing rapid depletion of existing natural resources. Added pressure from mismanagement and lack of legislation on solving numerous environmental crises is leading to overexploitation. Limited focus too, is a significant hindrance, as associations such as Regional Fisheries Management Organizations oversee only specific territories and species instead of a more inclusive approach.

Policymakers need to hasten up while public bodies and activists need to enforce more stringent checks on illegal marine activities, such as LED fishing, they say. A balanced approach backed by research and legislation is the ideal way forward.

Cassandra Carvalho