Marine Ecosystem and Human Neglect: Interplay
Human entities have been constantly jeopardizing the very resources that they depend on for their survival. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, i.e. IPCC’s Report on Climate Change and Land;while highlighting the importance of our natural resources; states,
“Neither our individual or societal identities, nor the world’s economy would exist without the multiple resources, services and livelihood systems provided by land ecosystems and biodiversity”
Regardless of proximity to oceans, our dependence on the oceanic resources is prodigious. This is evident from the 2019 Special Report by IPCC that comprehensively deals with the effects of changing climate on the ocean and cryosphere. It highlights the present and future hazards posed to the human communities living in close association to ocean resources and threats to sustainable development as a whole. Human community depends on marine ecosystems for its fundamental requirements of food and shelter. If the exploitation of this ecosystem continues at its present pace, there would be a massive decline in fish stocks and millions of people are likely to be displaced by rising levels of sea, caused due to large scale flooding, low-lying mega cities and small island nations. Further, a large number of individual livelihoods that depend on income arising from the exploitation of marine resources would ultimately become redundant. Individual nations are already dealing with extreme scarcity of food resources accompanied by large scale unemployment whereas the global community, on the other hand, is tackling a statelessness crisis, both with no actual relief in sight.
The UNHCR’s expert Round Table Conference on Climate Change and Displacement recognized displacement of human communities as a significant consequence of global climate change. The deliberation identified various concerns associated with such a displacement, including sudden statelessness and under-preparedness of the global community to effectively handle such an extensive displacement.
Transition towards a Blue Economy
Senator Gaylord Nelson, while concluding his speech on the occasion of Earth Day on 22nd April 1970, expressed his melancholy when he said,
“Are we able to meet the challenge? Yes, we have the technology and resources.
Are we willing? That is the unanswered question.”
The global community has ample means and resources to tackle the accelerating degradation of our marine ecosystems. The reason behind consistent inaction is the lack of incentive.
In such a predicament, innovative alternatives need to be adopted that would incentivize such functionaries to invest in the well-being of our oceans. One such concept is known as ‘Blue Economy’. The concept of blue economy is similar to the concept of conservation finance, i.e. it aims at utilizing the ocean resources for economic growth in a manner which is sustainable. Such an approach tries to employ financial tools in such a fashion that would tackle the evils of climate change and preserve the marine ecosystem, and at the same time generate greater job opportunities, drive economic growth and meet the challenges of food insecurity.
Potential Financial Tools
Increasing research is being done to explore the avenues for developing new revenue streams in the protected areas. The following financial tools are indicative of the measures that may be adopted for enabling a transition towards a blue economy:
- Debt Re-financing:
As per the United Nations 2020 Financing for Sustainable Development Report, 44% of low income and least developed countries presently face debt distress. This condition has been further worsened by the COVID-19 global pandemic and is expected to further deteriorate. Such a situation has led to an increase in borrowings by nations. This situation is harmful with regards to the marine biosphere as it further diminishes their ability to invest in sustainability projects. Debt restructuring is a tool that has the potential to effectively deal with this crisis by re-financing the debt of nations, especially the coastal and island nations. At present there are various international governmental and non-governmental organizations that are offering assistance to enable easy transition to profit avenues that complement the health of our oceans.Herein, the debts re-financing is done by way of agreements that require such nations to invest a proportion of funds towards welfare of the oceans. The massive amounts of funds raised by debt re-financing can be mobilized towards transforming marine activities into climate-friendly projects. The money can also be used to finance coastal renewal projects and other such initiatives.
Eco-tourism is a concept that has gained increasing popularity over time. Unarguably,tourism is a significant factor that increases coastal pollution and disturbs the marine ecosystem. Costa Rica, Antarctica, Norway, and Kenya are leading this sector by setting great examples of how tourism can be promoted in ways which are not detrimental to the environment. This alternative can be enforced at a regional level by encouraging investments in eco-friendly resorts and other tourist activities.
- Partnering for Expertise:
Huge corporations can be incentivized to partner with local institutions that have local expertise and are in the best position to offer support and advice for developing projects that do not burden the marine biosphere. International NGOs can also be partnered with for incorporating innovative business practices that would not be fatal to the well-being of our ocean resources.
- Ocean Resource Trading:
Similar to Carbon Trading, the government can trade bonds with private sector. This would be a source of income for the government and would also encourage private entities to act in a cautious manner. Such a concept will turn ocean resources into a commodity capable of being measured in economic terms and would also ensure better control over the same. Such an approach will help secure government efforts towards building a sustainable economic landscape.
Seychelles is pioneering the transition to Blue Economy as it aims at protecting its coral reefs and improving its capacity to tackle climate change, and at the same time strengthening its economy. The Seychelles Model has been operational since 2014 and it focuses on economic diversification in line with sustainable use of marine and coastal ecosystems that would generate employment and investment opportunities and further its need for food security. Seychelles realized its dependence on tourism and fisheries at an early stage and, hence, undertook timely efforts to maintain the health of its marine ecosystems, as unsustainable efforts would only diminish capital as well as income, leading to an adverse position that would greatly risk food security for a nation that depends largely on local fisheries.
Such a transition to blue economy would enable nations to improve the quality of human life by ensuring food security, generating employment opportunities and safeguarding statehood, thus, realizing their obligations under International Covenants in their fullest sense. If a country as tiny as Seychelles can make such a huge difference to the health of its marine ecosystem in a matter of few years, the change that can be brought about by bigger economies if they unlock their potential would go a huge way in making our oceans healthier and ensuring sustainability of life on Earth.
About the Author
*Vaayu Goyal is a 5th Year BBA LL.B. (Hons.) student at School of Law, CHRIST Deemed to be University, Bengaluru.
IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems, IPCC (July 05, 2020, 2.30 PM),https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/.
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 Office of the Vice President, Government of Seychelles, Seychelles blue bond: transitioning to sustainable artisanal fisheries and strengthening value chain benefits through innovative finance and partnerships, UN Ocean Conference (July 08, 2020, 8.30PM), https://oceanconference.un.org/commitments/?id=16283#:~:text=Seychelles%20has%20pioneered%20the%20blue,and%20future%20prosperity%20since%202014.&text=Seychelles%20comparative%20advantage%20lies%20in,of%20coastal%20and%20marine%20ecosystems.