Sustainable growth amid crisis through the blue economy concept
I started writing about the new blue economy in this column in November 2015, just before the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Top political leaders of UN member countries attended COP21 because the fate of our planet Earth was being threatened by climate change. Now, seven years after, that threat has become a “climate crisis,” a phrase that I’d rather refer to as “climate action,” what we must urgently focus on. At the June 2022 general membership meeting of the Israel Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, worried business leaders asked: (Is this) worse than pandemic?
Our country may not have been one of the worst hit by COVID-19, which we are recovering from now. But for climate change risks, we are one of the most vulnerable countries in the world due to several factors—what we are as a nation, where we are located in this planet, how we have managed our natural assets, e.g., our coastal areas and water bodies, and others, including how prepared we are in facing climate change that is already causing adverse effects on many local communities of our nation—a Maritime and Archipelagic Nation (MAN).
The low level of public awareness and appreciation, even by many policymakers, of our “MAN-hood” is one reason for our poor preparation in facing climate change risks. It is a challenge to our new political leaders and executives to help our country act like a MAN. We hope that our national plans and priority programs that are being updated now under the leadership of President Marcos will include strategies and urgent actions to make our country become a stronger MAN in overcoming adverse climate changes and remaining on the path to “sustainable growth,” a term that both second-term Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan and new Bangko Sentral Governor Felipe Medalla used as speakers at our MAP economic briefing and general membership meeting last week. They are hardworking and brilliant members of Mr. Marcos’ economic team. But they need a whole-of-nation development strategy and support for our country to achieve sustainable growth.
Asserting our ‘MAN-hood’ to achieve sustainable growth
I hope that this month of September, which former President Rodrigo Duterte had declared as MAN Awareness Month (MANA Mo) annually, through Presidential Proclamation No. 316, will remind us again to be aware that we are a MAN of 7,641 islands, with territory composed of 4/5 water (including our exclusive economic zone, of course) and only 1/5 land.
We are a MAN that is so blessed to have the richest part of the center of marine biodiversity in the world! That is our natural asset that we should know better with more research work so that we can protect, conserve, and use it well. Our rich marine biodiversity is like a bright jewel that can help us attract and develop growth opportunities for the development of a sustainable blue economy, which now deserves priority attention of both the public and private sectors.
BE—what it is and its potential scope
Gunter Pauli, an economist-businessman from Belgium and a leading proponent of blue economy (BE), is widely recognized as the “father of the BE concept.” As a professor at the United Nations University, he was the first to introduce its economic philosophy in 1994. He defined BE as an economy where producers offer the best products at the lowest prices through innovations that generate multiple benefits from efficient use of available local resources. His definition applies to all of planet Earth’s ecosystems. He calls it “blue” because water—which is more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and the marine environment (oceans and seas) is more than 97 percent of that—is our planet’s largest ecosystem that makes our planet look blue.
At the Rio+20 UN Conference in 2012, green economy, defined as a low-carbon, resource-efficient, and socially inclusive economy, was the main theme. The new concept of BE was then seen as an important branch of the green economy for the growth opportunities that the marine environment offers. After that event, recognition of the current and potentially vast contributions of the marine environment to socioeconomic development increased. Awareness of the need for sustainable management and use of marine ecosystem as well as coastal areas increased so much so that SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) No.14, Life Below Water, was added.
But it took several more years before the first Global Conference on Sustainable Blue Economy was held in November 2018 in Nairobi. At that event, BE was defined as “the overall contributions of oceans to economies.” Participants identified it as a growth opportunity to both developed and developing countries. But they also recognized the need to address ecological sustainability.
Since then, some governments, groups, and individuals have defined BE somewhat differently. I read somewhere that the Philippine government has defined BE as “the sustainable management of marine resources and the marine-linked sectors in the economy.” The European Commission defines it as “all economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts. It covers a wide range of interlinked established and emerging sectors.” Recently, another definition included all ecosystems around seas, lakes and rivers.
The BE concept will continue to evolve as countries recognize the value of water in whatever type of body it is in, and of the life within and below it, as well as their impact on or from global warming, other ecosystems, economic and other human activities and sustainable development.
BE for economic transformation
We heard Mr. Marcos’ “unity” platform during the past election and recently his socioeconomic agenda through Secretary Balisacan’s talk before MAP, providing more details on how the administration will address constraints to economic transformation for a prosperous, inclusive, and resilient society in the near- to- medium term.
Economic transformation is, indeed, an essential key to achieving unity, with more emphasis on it being inclusive as we have many different types of people—indigenous and others—in our 7,641 islands, many of which have marine environments: lakes, rivers and beautiful coastal areas. But many of these islands, especially the rural or coastal ones, where capture fishery is a common means of livelihood, need much human capital development so that they may increase business and other economic opportunities, and improve purchasing power.
A working group in our Climate Action and Sustainability Alliance, which is composed of MAP members and our partners from various organizations, is now developing our contribution to a BE-focused economic transformation through a FEW catalysts. FEW stands for the basic needs in most of these islands—food, energy and water. You shall hear more from us on these BE catalysts. INQ
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and not the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author, a life member of MAP, is former chair of the MAP Sustainable Development Committee. She is convenor-chair of Climate Action and Sustainability Alliance