By Sharon Atieno

With an estimated economy of up to $6 trillion, a global trade, investment and innovation “Blue Deal” is crucial to sustainably use the world’s oceans.

This is according to a new United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report dubbed Trade and Environment Review 2023 presented at the third UN Trade Forum in Switzerland.

The report finds that oceans have a great potential to build more innovative and resilient economies, especially in developing countries but this is threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing.

Despite this crisis, it notes that oceans remain underfunded with only 1.6% of the total Official Development Assistance (about $2.9 billion per year) being directed to the ocean economy between 2013 and 2018.

“This is far below the amount required to address the ocean crisis. What’s required is a global “Blue Deal” to invest in safeguarding marine resources and building a resilient ocean economy that benefits all,” the report reads.

It shows that an investment of $2.8 trillion today in four sustainable solutions – conservation and restoration of mangroves, decarbonization of international shipping, sustainable ocean-based food production and offshore wind energy – would yield benefits of $15.5 trillion by 2050.

The Blue Deal, according to the report, would also drive investment into new sustainable sectors – including seaweed farming and plastics substitutes – that could benefit many developing countries.

“The ocean economy offers many opportunities. We must strike the right balance between benefitting from the ocean and protecting its resources,” UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Pedro Manuel Moreno said.

Seaweed farming and plastics substitutes

The global market for seaweed has been increasing over the years, from $4.5 billion in 2000 to $16.5 billion in 2020. Thus, the report finds that the plant can be farmed in developing countries for food, cosmetics and biofuels as well as provide an alternative to plastics.

Besides seaweed, the report recommends several plastic substitutes readily available in developing nations that can be traded including bamboo, coconut husks, banana plants and agricultural wastes.

“The world traded about $388 billion in plastics substitutes in 2020. While this is already a sizeable market, it’s just one-third the amount traded in plastics made from fossil fuels. So there is huge potential for growth,” the report reads.

To tap into these opportunities, UNCTAD calls on governments and businesses to boost funding for research and development of emerging sustainable sectors in the ocean economy.

It urges companies to invest in developing countries to bolster their technology and skills so they can capitalize on new ocean opportunities.

Additionally, governments are urged to ensure seaweed farming is done in a way that protects marine ecosystems and creates jobs for coastal communities.

Also, countries are called to finalize negotiations on the UN treaty on ending plastic pollution and creating trade incentives for nature-based substitutes.