Saturday 30 September 2023

What is the blue economy and why is it important for Latin America?

If the blue economy is calculated in its entirety as a national economy it would be the seventh largest in the world. If it were a country, the ocean would be a member of the G7.

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Q REPORTS (BBC Mundo) We are talking about the largest ecosystem in the world, it covers 70% of the earth’s surface, provides 50% of the oxygen we breathe and is the largest natural carbon sink; however, for decades it has been turned away.

We have turned our backs on the ocean.

Its existence has been taken for granted and it has always looked inward, towards the earth. Its conservation and protection still has a long way to go in areas such as the fight against overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change.

Its importance also lies in the fact that important industries around the world depend on the health of the oceans and have an impact on it, causing the ocean economy to move between US$3 and 6 trillion each year, according to United Nations data.

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This includes employment and all services related to the ocean and seas, including shipping, fishing, renewable energy, port construction, coastal tourism and coastal infrastructure.

“If you calculate the ocean economy as a national economy, it would be the seventh largest economy in the world,” explains Ole Vestergaard, head of the Sustainable Blue Economy of the UN Development Program (UNDP), to BBC Mundo.

All the experts consulted by BBC Mundo are clear about its importance and the need for sustainable development.

“If it is the seventh largest economy in the world, the ocean would be a member of the G7 and sit at the table,” says Sonia Ruiz, a sustainability specialist at the Esade Institute for Social Innovation and founder of NOIMA.

Origins of the term “blue economy”

The concept arose from the hands of the Belgian economist Gunter Pauli, who was the first to write about this idea in 2009, in his book entitled “The Blue Economy”, which includes a report he made for the Club of Rome.

In it, he sought to promote an economic model that had respect for the environment as its center and explained 100 innovations that introduce sustainable forms of production or use and that would generate more than 100 million jobs.

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The book was raised as an alternative to the green economy that has created, in his opinion, a prohibitive production system, with prices so high that only the elite can access organic products.

“Everything that is green is expensive, it is impossible. How are we going to have an economy where only the rich can pay to do something well? For me this was ruled out,” Pauli told BBC Mundo about a concept that was later included in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 in 2012.

The businessman and founder of the Zero Emissions Research Initiative (ZERI) insists on the importance of working with what you have.

“70% of the population lives by the sea and is not taking advantage of it. They use it as a garbage dump. The only thing we think about today is fishing and deep-sea mining, without going any further” , holds.

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Considered “the Steve Jobs of sustainability” or “the Ché Guevara of sustainability” in Latin America, he insists that he is not a theoretician, but that he proposes concrete projects.

“People don’t realize the opportunity they have. They describe the problem of plastic pollution, the problem of overfishing, the problem of deep-sea mining, but as I always say: analysis, paralysis,” says Pauli. .

This call to action includes his report in which he presented “concrete proposals that demonstrated that it was perfectly possible to regenerate mangroves, regenerate algae forests to obtain food, to obtain energy, to have drinking water, etc.”

This is the case, for example, of a project that he has in Mar del Plata, Argentina, focused on breeding fly larvae as food for fish farming generated through slaughterhouse waste, Pauli details.

“There are other very important examples, such as the case of Rapa Nui, which is an island that depends 100% on imported energy from abroad and for them we made a wind power generation plan but with kites. Not with windmills. This allows wind energy to be generated 24 hours a day and not only when there is a wind that hits the windmill,” he explains.

The blue economy areas that arouse the most interest are: marine debris management, circular economy, fishing and aquaculture, coral restoration, and marine energy.

Why is it important for Latin America and for the world?

Just as a person cannot live without a healthy heart and lungs, the Earth cannot survive without healthy oceans and seas.

The seas absorb 30% of the world’s CO2, while marine phytoplankton generates 50% of the oxygen necessary for survival. In addition, they are essential for social well-being.

More than 40% of the world’s population, 3.1 billion people, live within 100 km of the ocean or sea in some 150 coastal and island nations, according to the UN.

In the case of Latin America, with approximately 240,000 km of coastline, 27% of the population depends directly or indirectly on the ocean and its wealth.

Through activities such as sustainable fishing, renewable energy production or ecotourism, countries have been able to increase employment rates and good sanitation, while reducing poverty, malnutrition and pollution, while increasing their resilience.

“It is about improving the quality of life of all people who live in some way related or linked to the sea, whose survival depends on the ocean and its resources,” explains Alicia Montalvo, an expert in blue economy at the Development Bank, to BBC Mundo. of Latin America (CAF).

“I always like to say that the social and the environmental cannot be separated.

“For example, if we facilitate sustainable tourism development using the beaches properly, the mangroves and all the coral reefs, etc., this will improve the lives of all the people who live there,” adds Montalvo while highlighting Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica for their ocean vision.

“In Latin America there is a serious problem of drinking water. With these blue economy projects it is about having drinking water, having short-circuit food, having renewable energy, having gas from algae that is so easy to produce. It is the opportunity to respond to basic needs in the very short term. That’s the most important thing,” adds Pauli.

Confusing terminology

It is important to differentiate between the blue economy, that is, all activities related to the oceans and seas, and the sustainable blue economy, which is what is currently being talked about when simply mentioning the term blue economy.

The mixture of these two concepts can be confusing, because although the trend is towards sustainability in all areas, today there is still, for example, a large part of fishing, tourism or shipping companies that are not sustainable, although they can become so.

“There is currently no universal definition of ‘blue economy’,” acknowledges Ole Vestergaard.

“UNDP emphasizes the goal of sustainability and talks about ‘sustainable blue economy’, because traditional blue sectors and maritime users are not always sustainable or environmentally friendly.

“The shorter term ‘blue economy’ can be confusing as it can apply to ocean businesses that are not actually sustainable. This is why UNDP is working to make this distinction clear in all of our work on sustainable blue economy,” he adds.

The sustainable blue economy thus seeks to promote a new economic system in which the resources offered by nature are reused.

The World Bank is in this line when referring to the blue economy as “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, the improvement of livelihoods and employment, while preserving the health of the ecosystem”.

The different visions of the blue economy could be summarized in four models, according to the sustainability expert Sonia Ruiz.

In the first place, a more activist vision, which is the one defended by NGOs, focused on conserving, restoring and protecting all activities linked to the marine environment.

Secondly, the vision of the oceans as a business opportunity, as is the case, for example, of the tourism industry and which may or may not include sustainable and environmental criteria.

Third, the one that sees the oceans as a way of life, which includes the communities that live linked to the oceans.

And fourthly, the one that sees the oceans as a source of innovation, as is the case of the sustainable exploitation of the sea floor.

How blue economy projects are financed

Blue economy projects are financed mainly through private and public investment, green funds and organizations such as UNDP, which in the last 25 years has mobilized more than US$1 billion for ocean protection and restoration activities in more than 100 countries.

Blue economy models can offer solutions to meet the increase in consumption in a sustainable and climate-resilient manner.

Likewise, the UN launched in 2018 the UN Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), which is a global partnership that brings together the UN with more than 350 banks, insurers and institutional investors to develop the finance agenda. sustainable and that promote the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) focused on the oceans and seas, established in 2015.

CAF is part of this alliance with the UN. The entity promised to dedicate at least US$1,250 million between 2022 and 2026 to issues related to the blue economy, to support projects, for example, regenerative tourism, wind energy or related to the use of algae as a source of protein. and the pharmaceutical industry.

An example of this type of sustainable blue economy project is the case of one that promotes and supports small-scale artisanal fishing communities in Costa Rica to create marine areas for responsible fishing.

Fishermen can request the delimitation of an area as responsible fishing. In this way, in addition, artisanal fishermen are freed from the power of intermediaries, thus promoting fair compensation and creating employment opportunities in the community.

Translated and adapted from the original “Qué es la economía azul y por qué es importante para América Latina” published at BBC Mundo.

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