Green growth and sustainable development

2017 Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum: Greening the Ocean economy: New Challenges for green growth


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría 

OECD Secretary-General 

Paris, 21 November 2017

(As prepared for delivery) 


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

“I need the sea because it teaches me.” These first words of the poem by Pablo Neruda “The Sea” are a great omen to kick-off this Forum. So much to learn from the ocean. The ocean is our new economic frontier. It is vital for our well-being, for sustainable development and for our planet. The ocean holds great resource wealth and potential for boosting economic growth, employment and innovation.


But we need to respect the ocean, to take good care of it, to understand that we cannot afford to waste this precious treasure because without the ocean there is no life. As I read in a recent editorial by The Economist, “if anything ought to be too big to fail, it is the ocean.”


It is therefore a great pleasure to open the 2017 edition of the OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum on the theme of “Greening the Ocean Economy”.

How deep is the ocean economy?

We are here to talk about three quarters of our planet. It is hard to grasp the magnitude, the relevance of the oceans for our lives, for our economies. The oceans provide the proteins for close to 3 billion people (that’s more than beef). The livelihoods of some 57 million fishers and fish farmers depend on the oceans. It is estimated that ocean areas within 100 kilometres of the coastlines account for over 60% of the global gross national product.


Our report ‘The Ocean Economy in 2030’ estimates that the oceans economy’s value in 2010 was at USD 1.5 trillion or 2.5% of the world gross value added. But economic activity in the ocean is expanding rapidly. By 2030, on a “business as usual” basis the contribution of the ocean economy could more than double to over USD 3 trillion, supporting close to 40 million full-time jobs.


Moreover, the oceans are indispensable for addressing many of the global challenges facing the planet in the decades to come, from world food security and climate change to the provision of energy, natural resources and, even improved medical care through advanced marine biotechnology. It is therefore as clear as sea water: we need to fiercely protect this vast source of life and progress.


Protect the ocean to protect humanity

We have to do a better job protecting the ocean. Marine biodiversity and ecosystems are already under severe stress from over-fishing, habitat destruction, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change.


The numbers tell a sad story. 60% of the world’s major marine ecosystems have been degraded or are being used unsustainably. More than 85% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. In 2016, 31% of fish stocks were estimated as fished at a biologically unsustainable level and therefore overfished.


The prospects for future ocean development are further aggravated by growing ocean pollution, much of which is land-based, through sewage, fertiliser run-off from farming and disposal of plastic. By mid-century, the ocean could have more plastic than fish by weight. The fish are eating this plastic and it’s ending up in our stomachs!


Growing global populations will raise demand for fish and other seafood, and stimulate sea-borne freight and passenger traffic, shipbuilding and marine equipment manufacturing, as well as exploration for offshore oil and gas reserves. And let’s not forget rising sea levels due to climate change and the threat to coastal cities. We have no time to lose.


Science and technology can do the trick

The multiplicity and size of these challenges might seem daunting. But the ocean-based sectors also present promising trends that could provide solutions. In the coming decades, scientific and technological advances are expected to play a crucial role both in addressing many ocean-related environmental challenges, and in the development of ocean-based economic activities.


For example, during yesterday’s workshop on “green growth of maritime industries”, participants discussed how international, regional and national regulations – with private-sector initiatives – are driving environmental innovation in the shipping sector. Recent innovations will lead to the use of large Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fuelled container vessels, generating significant reductions in Sulphur oxide (SOx) and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions.


We also have a suite of policy instruments at hand, from blue carbon payments for ecosystem services initiatives, and reforming environmentally harmful subsidies, to taxing marine pollution, and marine protected areas. Promoting better waste management, including recycling and reuse of plastic waste towards a circular economy is also part of the solution. We need to scale up these policies and make them more ambitious.


And we need to improve the governance of our ocean 

We must also improve the governance of our ocean. Our inability to deal with growing pressures in an effective manner is in part due to a sector-by-sector management of marine activities, with many different agencies focusing on many different activities. A growing number of countries and regions are now putting in place strategic policy frameworks for better ocean management. Most coastal nations already have a variety of sectoral policies in place to manage different uses of the ocean such as shipping, fishing, oil and gas development, offshore wind farms and aquaculture.


Over the last few decades, a good number of these frameworks have undertaken sustained efforts to develop an integrated, ecosystem-based vision for the governance of ocean areas under their jurisdiction. But more must be done to promote these actions which encompass goals and procedures to harmonise existing uses and laws, to promote sustainable development of ocean areas, to protect biodiversity and vulnerable resources and ecosystems.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The ocean is our origin, our world, our life. It is also our hope, our future. We cannot afford to lose this one. It’s not because we don’t see it that it’s not vital. It’s not because we don’t feel it that it’s not being depleted. Let’s defeat together our “Ocean blindness”. Technology is helping a lot. It is making the ocean’s remoteness less intangible, bringing the ocean’s perils and potential closer to our minds and hearts. But this is not enough. We must change our policies and lifestyles, improve our governance and, highly important, implement and strengthen the Paris Agreement, our best hope for protecting the ocean.


The key to greening the ocean lies in effective multilateral co-operation. This is the relevance of this Forum. This is your relevance. Remember, the ocean is too big to fail. The ocean is in your hands. Have a most productive discussion!



See also

OECD Marine Protected Areas: Economics, Management and Effective Policy Mixes 2017

OECD work on green growth

OECD work on fisheries



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