“What will a changing ocean mean to us, our jobs and markets?”


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Thursday 24 January 2019 - Salesforce Chalet, Davos

(As prepared for delivery)



Ambassador Thomson, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The iconic ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau once said “For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realise that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”

Unfortunately, in spite of this knowledge, we are failing in our duty to protect our planet. The case of the oceans is central to this drama. Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the sea. By 2030 it is projected to be two garbage trucks, by 2050 it will be four. By this point, the oceans will have more plastic than fish by weight.

Whole ecosystems are under threat from unsustainable fishing and the mining of marine resources, habitat destruction, pollution and climate change. The IPCC Report Global Warming of 1.5oC projects that coral reefs could decline by 70-90% with global warming of 1.5oC, and be essentially eradicated by a 99% decline at 2oC! Without bold climate action we will witness – within our lifetimes – the loss of an entire ecosystem.

This is a major wake-up call! We have to tackle this tragedy.

Healthy oceans are fundamental for the future welfare and prosperity of humankind. The oceans define the nature of our blue planet. They are the largest source of life and support rich biodiversity. They are also an important carbon sink – absorbing about one-third of anthropogenic emissions.

The ocean also holds immense resource wealth and great potential for supporting economic growth, employment and development. The OECD projects that the ocean economy could double in size from 2010 to 2030, reaching USD 3 trillion and employing 40 million people. Coral ecosystems alone provide over USD 170 billion a year to the world economy through food and raw materials, water purification, recreation, tourism, and maintenance of biodiversity.

The ocean economy spans several industries – oil and gas, fishing, shipping, tourism, offshore wind energy and marine biotechnology. It is large, and rapidly growing.

We must ensure that all policies, finance and institutional arrangements that impact the ocean are well-aligned, efficient, effective and advance progress towards achieving the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goal 14 on “Life Below Water”.

At the OECD we advocate a “whole-of-government” approach, focusing on five key priority areas for a healthy ocean economy:

First, ensuring the health and resilience of marine biodiversity and ecosystem services. The OECD’s recent work has focussed on effective policy and financing approaches for Marine Protected Areas. Our current priority is to help governments identify, assess and manage subsidies harmful to marine biodiversity.

Second, waging a war on plastic pollution. Last year we launched a major report on Improving Markets for Recycled Plastics, which takes a holistic, value-chain approach to the problem of ocean plastics. We all need to up our game on this, both in terms of prevention and in terms of cleaning up what’s already there.

Third, putting fisheries and aquaculture on a sustainable footing. The OECD is working particularly to track policies and practices that can deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Fourth, harnessing science, technology and innovation. We are witnessing game-changing advances in areas like subsea engineering and technology, sensors and imaging, big data analytics, autonomous systems, biotechnology and nanotechnology. The OECD is working to link up ocean industries, marine ecosystems services and national accounts and boost ocean science, research and innovation networks. Next month in Portugal, the OECD will present its new report Rethinking Innovation in the Ocean Economy.

Last but not least, we have to support developing countries. Building on our report Making Development Co-operation Work for Small Island States, the OECD has just launched a new initiative bringing together expertise on development finance, innovation and the environment to explore how to increase the sustainability of the ocean economy and harness its benefits for developing countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The oceans needs a voice! Desperately, the ocean is looking for a voice. It is the most powerful and beautiful thing we’ve ever seen, the most expressive and relevant miracle of nature, but it lacks a voice to defend itself. Let’s be that voice. Let’s raise that voice.


Let’s say it loud and clear: we have to collaborate across all fronts and all sectors to protect the ocean, to co-exist with a healthy and biodiversity-rich ocean, to have a strong, smart and sustainable ocean economy. Because now, in this precise moment, it’s literally sink or swim. Count on the OECD. Work with us. We are ready and willing to work with you and for you to save the oceans. Thank you.



See also:

OECD work on Environment


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