Blue Economy as a macroeconomic concept blends well with the sustainability goals that the G20 is trying to achieve. It integrates the ethos of national and global governance, environmental sustainability and resource protection, economic development as well as international communication. The G20 comprises 45% of coastlines of the world, and 21% of Exclusive Economic Zones which presents India’s 2023 presidency a unique opportunity to leverage ocean-linked resources for sustainable development.
The word “Blue Economy” was coined by Gunter Pauli in 1995 at COP3 in Japan where the Kyoto protocol was first decided, and yet, twenty-five years later, the policymaking world is still warming up to the prospects of Blue Economy as a sunrise industry. The idea is to use the ocean as a resource to catapult economic growth underlined by sustainable development while mitigating climate and environmental risks.
Blue economy endorses principles of equity and social inclusion as well as low carbon footprint and resource efficiency, while being grounded in the context of developing countries and prioritising the future of countries that are dependent on ocean resources. An important component of the Blue Economy is also to develop resources and optimally utilise them, sometimes also beyond their territorial jurisdiction which essentialises regional cooperation and sharing of knowledge.
In the coming decades, OECD estimates the blue economy linked sectors to grow at double the rate as compared to the rest of the world economy. It is already being tapped into by countries like Australia, Norway, Russia, the US, the UK, and Brazil. The EU is also in its exploratory phase of working out a pan-region policy for the Blue Economy. Several of the European countries have already institutionalised budgetary provisions, legislative mechanisms as well as hierarchical institutions at national and provincial levels to enable and realise targets under their respective blue economy initiatives.
India as a country with a coastline of 7,517 kilometres, the utilisation of ocean resources is part and parcel of everyday lives and national strategy. In fact, we have a vast Exclusive Economic Zone of over two million square kilometres which promises huge reserves of hydrocarbons and ocean resources. India also hosts the world’s second largest fishing community with about four million fishermen dependent on the oceans for their livelihood. 95% of India’s trade by volume transits the water and we have twelve major ports and 187 non-major ports which cumulatively handles about 1400 million tons of cargo annually.
More recently, India has taken its ocean-linked research and cooperation internationally by joining the UN’s Clean Sea Programme which ideates solutions and strategies for keeping the oceans plastic free. We are also joining hands with the International Seabed Authority (ISBA) for deep sea exploration in the Indian Ocean for minerals important for the renewable energy industry. India has also iterated Blue Economy as one of the ten core dimensions of growth in its Vision of New India by 2030.
India is set out to adopt a national blue economy policy framework, the draft of which was published in July 2022. The draft policy highlights the importance of anchoring a “robust Blue Economy Policy for India” in the Seychelles-Singapore-Samoa (SSS) axis, identifying its strategic positioning in the Indian Ocean. It emerges from India’s strategic outlook in the Indo Pacific as one that stretches from the Eastern shores of Africa to Western Pacific Ocean.
On the economic front, the draft foresees post-Covid19 recovery in India and world over, tethered to sustainable utilisation of ocean resources. To that end, the draft envisions a policy framework that will incentivise further investment and accelerate capacity building, skill development to enable job creation.
However, in India, the definition of Blue Economy is still in its infancy, but there is a wider stakeholder consensus to integrate aspects of sea bed and water resources, off-shore sovereignty, shipping and tourism, fisheries, offshore energy sources, sea lanes of communication, port infrastructure and ecosystem as well as new and innovative technology. Therefore, India’s Blue Economy policy is broadly based on three planks: national security, environmental sustainability and economic growth.
With India taking over the G20 presidency, there are some crucial dimensions India must consider in line with the G20’s agenda for economic recovery and climate risk mitigation. In order to flesh out a well-planned and well-coordinated system between coastal and ocean-based economic infrastructure for the G20 countries, it is important for India to focus on seven crucial areas in its 2023 presidency:
One, the vast potential of maritime renewable blue energy in the firm of wind, tidal, waves, thermal and biomass sources must be tapped into to reduce over reliance on fossil fuels-based energy production.
Two, decarbonizing global shipping should be made a priority. New global standards must be set to minimise the carbon footprint of the global shipping industry. Emerging technologies are key to tackling this challenge given that bulk of global trade transits international waters.
Three, coastal wetlands and ecosystems have huge potential to sequester carbon. They are also integral to coastal community development and protection in the events of climate change-induced disasters. Promoting the health of wetlands and coastal ecosystems must involve multi-government agencies and global government institutions. India can push for G20 based accreditations similar to the Blue Flag initiatives specifically targeting ecosystem health.
Four, it is important for the forum to incentivise investment in sustainable fisheries and encourage member countries to enact legislations to protect the interest of fishermen and dissuade deep sea trawling, IUU fishing and other forms of unsustainable fishing practises. Such investments must also go into better gear and GPS systems for the fishermen. In fact, the benefits of investing in sustainable fisheries range from attaining food security to generating millions of jobs.
Five, post-COVID economic recovery would greatly depend on the fillip tourism sector receives in emerging economies. Ocean- based sustainable and regenerative tourism can unlock the potential for many to smooth sail the recovery process through job generation and bringing foreign currency to many who need it.
Six, India must propose and promote green and blue bonds which will make powerful impacts in terms of sustainable climate financing. Mainstreaming these approaches will not only enable economic growth, but also help sustainable initiatives of the countries.
Seven, formulating an accounting framework is the first step to assessing the contributions of oceans to the global GDP. Such an assessment must follow specific focus and attention as required by each sector. Although this could be a long-drawn process, experiences from the West could provide valuable insights.
Moving forward, India must also take cognizance of the importance of international mechanisms to highlight the concerns of its partners and smaller developing countries. Apart from its G20 presidency, having a closer engagement with multilateral fora established under UNCLOS and negotiations on Fisheries Subsidy at the WTO and Biological Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) would give India a leverage in steering the discussions and proposing fairer negotiations.
Sharon Susan Koshy is a visiting fellow, Nepal Institute of International Cooperation and Engagement, Kathmandu
Irene Vettiyadan is working at European Solidarity Corp at Communauté des Communes du Périgord Ribéracois.