UN calls for action on a global ‘Blue Deal’ to protect oceans and marine life

Climate change, overfishing and pollution threaten the livelihoods of some 3 billion people who depend on the oceans for income and food, says the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in its Trade and Environment Review 2023. That’s why the UN is calling for a global Blue Deal on trade and investment to ensure the sustainable use of the oceans, which are home to 80 per cent of all life.

While Flanders’ own Blue Deal and a potential EU deal focus on resilience to droughts and floods, the UN’s proposal for a global Blue Deal takes a different approach, focusing on the sustainable management of oceans. This is not illogical, as more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface comprises oceans. These vast, deep waters significantly impact life and climate on Earth.

To strengthen the case for a global Blue Deal, UNCTAD has published the Trade and Environment Review 2023, a report that highlights the 3-6 trillion dollar global ocean economy and assesses how human activities and various global crises have affected sectors such as seafood, fisheries, shipping and coastal tourism.

“We need to find the optimal balance between benefiting from the ocean and protecting its resources,” said Pedro Manuel Moreno, UNCTAD assistant secretary-general, at the report’s launch. The report highlights two promising sustainable development sectors: plastic substitutes and seaweed cultivation.

Seaweed market

The global seaweed market has tripled in two decades, from 4.5 billion dollars in 2000 to 16.5 billion dollars in 2020. UNCTAD points out that growing seaweed does not require fresh water or fertiliser. It can be easily cultivated in many developing countries for food, cosmetics and biofuels and offers an alternative to plastic, of which some 11 million tonnes ends up in the oceans each year.

Several other sustainable materials can be used to make eco-friendly versions of food packaging, straws and other plastic items we use every day, says UNCTAD. Examples include bamboo, banana plants, coconut shells and agricultural waste.

Sustainable ocean development

The report also calls on businesses and governments to increase funding for research and development in sustainable sectors of the ocean economy. It urges companies to invest in developing countries to improve their technologies, production capacity and skills so that both can benefit from more sustainable ocean development.

Investment in emerging maritime sectors can help developing countries diversify their naval exports. The global export value of marine products, such as port equipment and seafood, and services, including shipping and coastal tourism, was estimated at 1.3 trillion dollars in 2020.

Finally, the report urges governments to promote a more diverse and sustainable ocean economy as soon as possible regarding crisis recovery strategies, climate mitigation and complementary adaptation strategies to meet the challenges ahead.