Investing In Oceans Yield Significant Gains, Researchers Find

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Every dollar invested in sustainable ocean solutions can yield benefits at least five times greater than the cost, new research from the World Resources Institute (WRI) has found.

The report, commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, says that investing $2 trillion to $3.7 trillion globally across four key areas – conserving and restoring mangroves, scaling up offshore wind production, decarbonizing the international shipping industry, and increasing the production of sustainable protein from the ocean – could generate $10.3 trillion to $26.5 trillion in total benefits between 2020 and 2050.

Ocean-related industries such as fishing, offshore wind energy, and shipping support roughly 3.5 to 7 percent of the world’s GDP, and this number is expected to double by 2030, according to WRI estimates. However, the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, overfishing, rising human population, and pollution have severely impacted the ocean’s ability to sustain them.

Manaswita Konar, a co-author of the WRI report, says that people should start talking more about how ocean-based solutions can help with economic recovery post-pandemic and build economic resilience into the system.

One suggestion by researchers is increasing the production of sustainable, ocean-sourced protein like fish and shellfish. With the global population expected to hit the 10-billion mark by 2050, investing in fisheries for low-carbon sources of protein can help reduce the pressure on the emissions-intensive farming of land-based livestock such as beef and lamb. Every dollar invested in increasing the production of sustainable protein from the ocean could result in $10 in benefits, researchers noted.

Another suggestion is investing in mangroves, which connect freshwater and saltwater ecosystems and protect people from rising sea levels, hurricanes, and flooding. Mangroves and other marine ecosystems such as salt marshes and seagrass also cut off more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. According to researchers, every $1 invested in the conservation and restoration of mangroves can yield a benefit of $3.

Meanwhile, growing fears over climate change in recent decades have helped accelerate the global shift towards more renewable sources of energy, including offshore wind farms. Though offshore farms generally cost a lot more than wind turbines on land, technological advancements have helped lower costs over time. Researchers suggest that every $1 invested in offshore wind farms can generate a benefit of anywhere between $2 to $17, but these figures could increase as technology improves.

The shipping industry, which accounts for around 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, is another major challenge that requires swift action. Decarbonizing shipping is key to mitigating ocean acidification, a phenomenon that affects marine ecosystems and the fishing and tourism industries. Reducing the shipping industry’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050 is estimated to cost at least $1.65 trillion; however, the health and environmental benefits outweigh the costs. Decarbonizing shipping is estimated to generate a return of anywhere between $2 to $5.

Across all investment areas, researchers looked into the costs to businesses, governments, and households to estimate the value of the benefits gained. They also took health, environmental, economic, and social factors into consideration.

The findings of this latest study build on research conducted last year by the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy which determined that ocean-based climate action could deliver one-fifth of the emissions cuts needed to meet the Paris Climate Accord’s goal of limiting the rise of the Earth’s temperature to just 1.5 degrees celsius.

The High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy, established in September of 2018, is a coalition of 14 world leaders and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, focused on building momentum towards a sustainable ocean economy. The group comprises leaders including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the leaders of Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau, and Portugal.