The ocean is at the center of our world, providing transport for 90% of global trade and jobs for more than 3 billion people.  For islanders, the ocean plays an especially fundamental role in lives, societies, and economies. It is arguably the most valuable asset for SIDS. However, the health of this resource is being increasingly challenged by the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. This in turn, negatively impacts the ability of the ocean to provide ecosystem services. To ensure an equitable, sustainable, and prosperous future through a sustainable blue economy approach, a transformational policy change, at both the global and national levels, is needed. 

During Davos this week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres cited a Swahili proverb, “Bahari itatufikisha popote”, which translates as “the ocean leads us anywhere”, stressing that the ocean is central to help open new horizons and lead the international community to a more just, sustainable future. “We need more science and innovation to propel us into a new chapter of global ocean action” he emphasized, encouraging the private sector to join ocean research and management partnerships and urging Governments to raise their level of ambition. 

At the global level, and as summarized in our previous bulletin, 2022 has been a busy year with a multitude of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) with relevance to the ocean taking place. The year has culminated in the adoption of the new Kunming -Montreal Global biodiversity framework (GBF) that, as mentioned by UNDP’s administrator: “means people around the world can hope for real progress to halt biodiversity loss and protect and restore our lands and seas in a way that safeguards our planet and respects the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.” 

To be successful, these agreements and frameworks need to be translated and implemented at the national levels. More specifically, national carbon footprints should be reduced through increased efficiency and a transition to renewable energy sources to keep the 1.5-degree Celsius target alive. Coastal and marine ecosystems should be managed using integrated, inclusive, cross-sectoral, and ecosystem-based approaches. Marine Protected Areas’ scale, representativeness, connectivity, and management effectiveness should be amplified to achieve the 30 by 30 objective of the post-2020 GBF. The sustainability of the seafood sector should be enhanced through the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies and better Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance, namely through digital tools. Plastics, and other sources of pollution, should be addressed through reduction, circulation approaches, and improved waste management, including through a better use of innovative data tools

To achieve that, SIDS will need to address the annual ocean-health funding gap that is estimated to be more than USD 174 billion at the global level. Conservation finance, supported by innovative mechanisms, will therefore be vital in 2023 to ensure the proper implementation of MEAs. In 2022, SIDS, like Fiji and Cabo Verde, have shown leadership by introducing such innovative finance mechanisms that can be replicated elsewhere. Looking forward, creating a well-regulated blue carbon market will also help overcome the challenges related to funding conservation, especially in SIDS, where blue carbon ecosystems, like mangroves and seagrass meadows, are abundant. Natural capital accounting could also be leveraged to tackle this funding gap. According to a recent article, published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, natural capital accounting would not only help reduce the nature financing gap but would also encourage businesses to adopt conservation practices. Fiji, with support from the global ocean accounts partnership, is testing the approach by implementing an ocean accounting pilot focusing on mangroves. The exercise will help understand the contribution of mangrove forests to society and the economy while providing a tool to assess the efficiency of policies and management interventions. Looking forward to 2023, this approach could help more SIDS enrich Blue Economy policy discussions and accelerate a blue recovery. 

Most importantly, the required transformational policy change needs to internalize ocean externalities, as advocated in UNDP’s Ocean Promise. This means that the costs of ocean health degradation should be internalized into the accounts of the industries responsible for these impacts. This was recently highlighted by H.E. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, during the last World Ocean Summit Asia-Pacific as an effective way to address both climate change and ocean health degradation. But while such changes will be driven by policy changes, a shift in our consumption patterns as individuals is necessary, so all hands on deck! 


Read the full 2023 and Beyond SIDS Bulletin.

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