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An Ocean of Opportunity

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

New research from the World Resources Institute (WRI) – a global research non-profit organisation which advises governments on sustaining natural resources – makes a compelling case for sustainable ocean-based investments.

A report commissioned by the WRI’s High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) views the ocean from the perspective of economists and investors, albeit investors in search of an ethical return as much as financial gains. It concludes that sustainable ocean-based investments could yield benefits in excess of five times their cost.

Manaswita Konar, lead ocean economist at the WRI and co-author of the report, says that rather than merely thinking of the ocean as a victim of climate change, “we should consider the ocean’s ability to address these challenges and bring prosperity to the economy”.

The Ocean Panel’s research looks at four main areas:

  • Ocean-based food production: Investments in wild fisheries can provide healthy diets while replacing carbon-heavy land-produced proteins such as beef or lamb. Such investments can yield a ten-fold return in benefits.

  • Mangroves: Mangroves are tropical coastal vegetation or swamp ecosystems which provide protection from rising sea levels, floods and hurricanes. The research estimates that investment in mangrove restoration and conservation will yield a three-fold beneficial return.

  • Offshore Wind Farms: Offshore wind farms were traditionally a more expensive source of power than land-based turbines but technological advancements have reduced that disparity and are now removing constrictions on location. The estimate here is that every $1 investment can return benefits from $2 to $17. Related costs vary considerably, hence the wide range in estimated potential benefits.

  • Decarbonising International Shipping: Shipping accounts for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the research indicates that investment in decarbonising this source will return benefits of between three- and five-fold.

Returns are measured in terms of economic, environmental and health benefits which are then monetised to arrive at the five-fold return statistic as follows:

Investment of $2 trillion between 2020 and 2050 will return:

  • $1 trillion economic benefits;

  • $4.3 trillion environment benefits;

  • $5 trillion health benefits.

Ocean-based industries were estimated to be worth $1.5 trillion in 2010, a figure the OECD estimates will double by 2030, and contribute at least 31 million direct full-time jobs.

It is both poignant and timely that the report includes health benefits as one of its measurables. The ocean-based sector has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic but the report takes the view that now is the time to make those investments and help the ocean play a significant role in the world’s recovery.


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