Can bankers save the ocean?
It’s become almost an accepted norm that “global environmental summits”—whether focused on carbon emissions or the number of tuna taken from the sea—launch with a great deal of hoopla, produce a lot of paperwork, and then are largely forgotten until four years later when the same gangs convene all over again.
But as last week’s World Oceans Summit in Singapore, sponsored by The Economist magazine, wound down, it was on a bit of a positive note, perhaps because the summit made sure to invite not just environmentalists, but bankers and economists too.
Like many of the world’s big problems, sound economic policy must go hand-in-hand with creative environmental solutions. Leave the money guys out of problem-solving and chances are you’ll come away both short of cash and follow-through.
In his keynote speech at the gathering’s opening, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick set the tone by suggesting that solving the ills that ail the world’s oceans involves bringing the private sector and international public institutions (in this case venerated environmental groups including Conservation International, the IUCN, the World Wild Life Fund and more) together and forcing them (my emphasis) to work side by side.
The groups that signed on to support the initiative include the World Bank, California-based Paine & Partners (a private equity firm), and the National Geographic Society; nonprofit environmental groups including CI and the Environmental Defense Fund; industry groups such as the National Fisheries Institute; and international organizations like FAO, UNESCO and the UNDP. The Global Partnership for Oceans was the name given the cooperative agreement, and on its face it sounds like the best, most-inclusive plan for helping to protect the oceans that I’ve heard in a decade. “The bottom line,” Conservation International’s CEO Peter Seligmann told the crowd, “is our lives depend on oceans, but we need to better understand them.” He went on to say that “enlightened self-interest” should propel all nations and communities to take care of the ocean.
(Thanks to a scheduling conflict—whether accidental or deliberate, we’ll never know—the meeting overlapped with the 2012 Ocean Sciences Meeting, held in Salt Lake City and attracting 4,000 ocean experts. Maybe leaving the eggheads out was strategic? Only time will tell if their input might have helped.)
“Leave the money guys out of problem-solving and chances are you’ll come away both short of cash and follow-through.”
The goal of the newly announced alliance—which intends to raise $1.5 billion to support its efforts—is to speak with one voice regarding overfishing, pollution and habitat loss, through partnerships ranging from projects like carbon-dioxide-absorbing seaweed farms to establishing more marine-protected areas and helping small fishermen better compete against big commercial ventures.
The group cited a variety of socioeconomic and environmental reasons for its intense focus on the ocean:
90 percent of people who make their living off the ocean live in developing countries;
350 million jobs globally are linked to the ocean;
1 billion people in developing countries depend on fish for their primary source of protein;
5 times more carbon is stored by coastal habitats than tropical forests, helping to absorb heat and carbon dioxide, generate oxygen and help regulate the world’s weather patterns;
85 nations and $102 billion are involved in the international fish trade;
$9 billion earned in ecotourism from reef diving;
$10 billion in tuna alone is traded each year;
85 percent of the world’s ocean fisheries are categorized as Fully Exploited, Over-Exploited or Depleted;
$2.2 trillion has been lost in the past 30 years due to mismanagement of the fisheries;
and less than 2 percent of ocean is protected, while more than 12 percent of land is under protection.
The Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, coming in June, will be the first opportunity for the new partnership to prove it can become a viable player in global efforts to manage the ocean, something no one has succeeded in…yet.