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Protect oceans for a clean recovery after the pandemic

Erna Solberg & Tommy Remengesau Jr.
Filed on June 10, 2020

As the world takes stock of the impacts and routes to recovery, blue nature needs to be central to our thinking

From Jamaica to Palau and Norway to Indonesia, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is global, and national recovery efforts must be globally focused to seize shared opportunities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the global domain that unites us - the ocean. We now need to harness the potential of 70% of the planet to provide a "blue boost" to our economies, while building a more resilient and sustainable world. The ocean is central to life on earth. It absorbs a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions and captures more than 90% of the additional heat they generate.

The ocean economy is worth over $2.5 trillion annually. It provides seafood to over three billion people each day and a livelihood for three billion. It transports around 90% of world trade. It is a source of energy and key ingredients for fighting disease. For many of us, it is a workplace and a home.

We represent countries that look extensively to the ocean for essential services and provisions, from aquaculture in the Norwegian fjords to tourism and fisheries off Palau. While our challenges are different, we are linked by the fact that the pandemic has put much of this at risk. The global tourism industry faces profound challenges in 2020 and many uncertainties in future years, with any recovery likely to be long and hard. Palau, for example, is projecting a decline of 52% in tourist arrivals in 2020 and 92% in 2021, leading to a 23% decline in GDP. Food security is also at risk. Supply chains have been disrupted due to social distancing and quarantine measures, with the fishing and seafood sectors particularly vulnerable.

As the world takes stock of the impacts and routes to recovery, blue nature needs to be central to our thinking. The ocean has an essential role to play, not only in terms of health and medicine, food and energy security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and scientific discovery, but also - and perhaps most integral to a post-pandemic future - in strengthening resilience to similar shocks.

To ensure that the ocean can fulfill its role, the road to recovery must include closing the waste loop by accelerating the development of a circular economy. Consider plastic pollution, which scars our landscapes, fills our ocean, and harms the health of the world's poorest people. Two billion people lack access to waste-management systems, and the pandemic is likely worsening the situation.

Resilience must be an objective of all our economic policies. After all, the global crisis caused by COVID-19 does not render obsolete our long-term climate and ocean challenges; on the contrary, it makes us more vulnerable to them. Nor does it take away the opportunities a sustainable ocean economy affords us.

The extraordinary global nature of the COVID-19 crisis means that we must work together to achieve the sustainable future we envision. Within the next year, the Ocean Panel will release an action agenda that sets out a plan that combines effective protection, sustainable production, and equitable prosperity to improve resilience to economic shocks, health crises, and resulting social disruptions.

Taking the steps now to respond, reset, and rebuild through a blue recovery will ensure ocean health and wealth, stimulate our economies, and create a more resilient, sustainable, and prosperous future for us all.

- Erna Solberg is Prime Minister of Norway. Tommy Remengesau, Jr. is President of Palau.


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