The United Nations Agenda 2030, through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 Life Below Water, calls on the world to ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’.
Regional frameworks such as 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy echo this emphasis on the development potential of marine resources and the need to protect the oceans, while the same message is also expressed in numerous national Blue Economy strategies and programmes.
Experience illustrates, however, that it is no easy task to simultaneously address socio-economic and sustainability concerns in the maritime domain. Some stakeholders are concerned that the emphasis on economic growth and employment creation within the Blue Economy is prioritised at the expense of ocean health. There is also a need to critically engage with debates around economic and development aspects of the Blue Economy; equity and gender dimensions cannot be ignored. As with all narratives around growth and development, we must ask ‘blue growth for whom?’
The workshop included presentations by various regional organisations engaged in the Blue Economy, including the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). These regional perspectives were supplemented with national case studies exploring the Blue Economy development efforts of South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.
The workshop was also addressed by Ambassador of Norway to South Africa Trine Skymoen in order to draw on insights from the Norwegian national experience and that country’s role in supporting numerous Blue Economy initiatives around the globe, including within the Africa region.
The presentations were followed by a period of discussion among workshop participants, including stakeholders from the non-profit sector, academia, multilateral agencies and the diplomatic community. Key themes emerging from these discussions are outlined below:
The need for appropriate governance mechanisms
The establishment of appropriate governance mechanisms to coordinate national Blue Economy initiatives was highlighted by several speakers. This is particularly important given that the Blue Economy is relevant to the mandate of several government departments and stakeholder groups.
It was noted that Tanzania currently does not have an effectively centralised governance mechanism for the country’s Blue Economy. In the case of South Africa, questions were raised around the appropriateness of positioning the Operation Phakisa Oceans Lab within the Department of Environmental Affairs, as the economic growth and employment targets of the initiative may at times come into conflict with the environmental protection and governance mandate of the Department.
It was also emphasised that institutional arrangements should be clearly defined, including the identification of a lead coordinating agency, to support accountability and effective implementation of national Blue Economy strategies.
Social equity concerns
Speakers noted there was a risk that questions around social equity are not receiving appropriate attention in the debate around environmental sustainability and economic growth. Social wellbeing and sustainable livelihoods, rather than purely economic indicators, must be considered in development pathways related to the Blue Economy. Efforts focussed on community empowerment, benefit-sharing and an enhanced voice for marginalised groups in policy processes are important for the development of inclusive Blue Economies.
Data generation and transparency to support implementation
Effective action towards economic, social and environmental aspects of the Blue Economy requires the generation and dissemination of data. This is crucial to support accountability and inform policy choices. Transparent communication to all relevant stakeholders also supports effective buy-in and cooperation.
From policy to action
Numerous speakers highlighted the need to ensure that policies related to the Blue Economy are effectively implemented, noting that there is often a significant disjuncture between policy ambitions and realities on the ground. Related to this, there is a need to identify projects that will contribute to the effective implementation of Blue Economy strategies and initiatives.
Opportunities related to South Africa’s chairing of IORA
IORA can play an important role in supporting cooperation and lesson-sharing related to the Blue Economy, as the association has highlighted the Blue Economy as a key focus area and is in the process of establishing a Blue Economy Working Group. It was suggested that South Africa, during its time as chair of IORA, should focus on strengthening the association’s Academic Group, which in turn will support enhanced knowledge sharing and research.
Numerous speakers highlighted the importance of ecosystem health to support vibrant Blue Economies. Marine plastics pollution was an area of particular concern. As land-based sources account for 80% of marine pollution, effective responses to marine pollution must address economic models, waste management and behaviour change. In this respect, the concept of the circular economy holds significant potential.
Maritime security underpins a vibrant Blue Economy
Maritime security was highlighted as an important prerequisite for the growth and smooth functioning of maritime sectors. In this respect, there is a need to update criminal codes to ensure that illegal activities in the maritime domain can be effectively prosecuted.
Strengthened maritime domain awareness is crucial to monitor and respond to criminal activities. This also relates to illegal fishing, which has a significant negative impact on maritime ecosystems and local economies.
Initiatives aimed at enhancing cooperation and using monitoring data more effectively (including satellite monitoring), such as Fish-I Africa or Project Eyes on the Seas, hold promise for more effective responses to illegal fishing. Participants also called attention to the human security aspects related to human trafficking and human rights abuses on fishing and cargo vessels.
The Blue Economy is receiving ever greater attention in global, regional and national policy debates. Global commitments (such as SDG 14), regional frameworks and national strategies call for the sustainable use of the oceans, yet there are varying conceptions of the Blue Economy and the relative importance that should be afforded to economic, social and environmental goals.
Numerous African countries have launched Blue Economy initiatives and have established institutional structures to coordinate and promote the development of the Blue Economy. In this context, peer learning and information exchange between African countries, as well as relevant multilateral agencies, are crucial in supporting a more coherent and effective approach to the Blue Economy. The Sea Change workshop provided an opportunity for such exchange, but also underscored the need for continued engagement and enhanced cooperation among participating stakeholders.