ISLAMABAD: The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has said the value of the ocean economy ranges between $3 trillion and $6tr per year, sustaining at least 150 million direct jobs across a wide range of sectors, including but not limited to fishing, aquaculture, shipping, tourism, offshore wind energy, oil and gas, mining and marine biotechnology.

UNCTAD, in its latest Trade and Environment Review 2023 released this week, said marine resources are under threat from climate change, pollution and overfishing.

About 11m tonnes of plastic flow into the oceans each year. Globally, 34 per cent of fish stocks have fallen to levels that are biologically unsustainable.

At stake are the livelihoods of about three billion people — living mostly in coastal areas of developing countries. The export value of ocean-based goods — including fisheries, seafood, ships and port equipment — and services — such as shipping and coastal tourism — was estimated at $1.3tr in 2020.

Marine resources under threat from climate change, pollution and overfishing

The European Union is by far the world’s leading exporter with $459bn worth of exports, followed by China ($160bn). Among developing coun­tries, the next biggest exporters are India ($34bn), Turkiye ($19bn) and Thailand ($17bn).

The Covid-19 crisis revealed the potential and resilience of some sectors and the extreme vulnera­bility of others. In general, exports of ocean-based goods showed remarkable resilience during the crisis, falling by just 3.2pc in value in 2020.

This was minimal compared to the 59pc crash suffered by ocean-related services, mainly driven by the collapse in coastal and marine tourism, which suffered the most from lockdowns.

Two ocean-based goods sectors — seafood proces­sing and marine high-technology manufac­tures — even grew during the peak of the pandemic, as more people reached for ready-to-eat foods with a longer shelf-life and electronic monitoring devices.

As a result, the export of ocean-based goods ($681bn) overtook those of services ($628bn) in 2020.

The drop in revenue from services hit many coastal communities in developing countries, which often rely on sectors like tourism.

Diversifying ocean exports and activities is key to building economic resilience to future crises.

The report highlighted two emerging sustainable sectors — seaweed and plastics substitutes — that offer huge opportunities for developing countries to attract investment, create jobs and diversify their ocean economies.

Seaweed can grow without fresh water or fertiliser and captures huge amounts of CO2.

The global market has more than tripled in two decades, growing from $4.5bn in 2000 to $16.5bn in 2020.

It can be farmed for food, cosmetics and biofuels, and can be used as an alternative to plastic.

The global exports of plastics reached about 369m tonnes in 2021. Most of it will end up flooding our oceans.

But nature abounds in sustainable materials that could be used to make eco-friendly vers­ions of the plastic prod­ucts we consume daily.

Besides algae, the list includes bamboo, banana plants and agricultural wastes.

The world traded about $388bn in plastics subst­itutes in 2020.

While this is already a sizeable market, it is just one third the amount traded in plastics made from fossil fuels.

So there is huge potential for growth. Two thirds of global exports of plastic substitutes are in the form of raw materials that many developing countries have in abundance.

The report points out that an estimated $35bn of government subsidies go to fishing activities around the world.

The impact of this money on fish stocks and ocean sustainability depends on how it is used.

While some funds, for example, support susta­inable fisheries manag­ement and artisanal fishers, a significant share — about $20bn a year — could contribute to overfishing by enhancing the capacity of the fishing industry.

Such support includes providing fuel subsidies, paying operational costs or providing financial support to buy larger ships.

Estimates show an investment of $2.8tr today in four sustainable solutions — conservation and restoration of mangroves, decarbonisa­tion of international ship­p­ing, sustainable ocean-based food production and offshore wind energy — would yield benefits of $15.5tr by 2050.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2023

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