Global Economy Turning Blue: are we ready?
New Observer post , Jul 02, 2017
The humans have always been seeking secure and comfortable life with minimum risks by innovating tools and technologies to overcome the limits imposed by the nature. Last couple of centuries witnessed important inventions culminating in the industrial revolution enabling mass production with ever smaller effort. Faster mobility enhanced inter-connectivity, improved varieties ensured higher food yields and advances in modern medicine reduced risk of diseases. IT applications of the last decades have added a major force multiplier to the technological capabilities making a visible impact on the quality of life.
Technology transformed the world beyond recognition and there are good reasons to celebrate growing prosperity, increasing life expectancy, comfortable work place, faster travel and communication. However, the post-industrial progress has not been without a downside where the sheer urge for more and faster has been breaching the planet's carrying capacity and disturbing its critical balance by way of depleting resources, extreme pollution, deteriorating water systems, rising temperatures and diminishing biodiversity.
Sufficiency of food failed to guarantee quality, growing non- communicable and new diseases started challenging the efficacy of modern medicine, extreme pollution threatens to strip the society of its basic right to clean breathable air and potable water. It seems the solutions of the yesteryears are turning into challenges for the future. If our ancestors faced a challenge of 'what' to do for meeting their essential growth needs, our generation must address the question of 'how'.
We have long reached a stage where if attention is not paid to sustainability of our actions, the earth's ecosystem may suffer irreparable damage, which would severely handicap the future generations' ability even to maintain the current standards of living.
The need for sustainability was recognised last century and growing public outcry especially in the developed world forced major changes in the production and transport technologies for mitigating pollution. Measures are also being taken for improved food quality, water treatment, solid waste management, energy efficiency and protection of biodiversity. The mantra of Reduce Reuse and Recycle coupled with other environmental regulations was a big step forward but not enough to restore and sustain the nature's balance. An evidently land focused approach also ran the risk of ignoring the much larger challenge posed by the deteriorating ocean health.
With depleting terrestrial resources there would be a greater rush to further exploit oceans not only for the conventional benefits drawn by the humanity for generations by way of food, transport, tourism and hydrocarbons but also the new fields of deep sea mining, ocean biotechnology, renewable energy and new medicines. Left unregulated, this would risk further aggravation in the already strained ocean health with long term impact.
Overfishing is depleting fish stocks, mindless waste duping and pollution are causing ocean acidification and emergence of dead spots thereby threatening the valuable biodiversity. Rising ocean temperatures could interfere with the vital water cycle including rains with unforeseeable consequences for fresh water availability, agriculture and reliability of inland waterways. The oceans' capacity as a huge carbon sink and oxygen replenish her could also suffer gravely.
On the other hand, if the oceans are harnessed sustainably, they could perpetually provide resources, wealth and quality livelihood. The oceans differentiate the earth from other known planets and they are at the roots of the mother earth's capacity to sustain life.
WWF estimates the global ocean assets at over USD 24 trillion with an annual value addition of USD 2.5 trillion, notionally qualifying them as the seventh largest world economy. Marine fishing alone provides over 350 million jobs whereas coastal tourism absorbs over six percent of the global workforce. Counting the employment generated by other ocean driven sectors, these numbers could really be much larger. According to the OECD, the ocean based industries might out performs the land based production by 2030 both in terms of value addition and job creation.
Depending on the societal responses, the oceans could continue as humanity's good guardians or a cause of prolonged misery. This assessment has led to the emergence of the concept of Blue Economy, which calls for harnessing of oceans for human welfare without compromising their capacity for self-repair and regeneration.
Global race to harness the ocean has already accelerated, so is the growing need and demand for better regulation. Besides the broad legal framework under the UNCLOS defining the States' territorial and operational rights and obligations, many more multilateral and regional arrangements have and continue to evolve for regulating human activities on the high seas.
All said, the Blue Economy would mean big business and those who prepare well and in time would be the winners. There would be trillions of dollars worth of opportunities both domestic and global in such sectors as ports, ship building and repair, logistics and management, marine fisheries and aquaculture, food processing, coastal tourism and infrastructure, hydrocarbons and deep sea mining, renewable energy and marine biotechnology.
With its geo-strategic location in the Indian Ocean, India has always been conscientious of the importance of oceans for her growth, development and security. We are also aware of the challenges and opportunities offered by the fast emerging global emphasis on promoting Blue Economy. Prime Minister Modi's vision for seeking Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and our Sagarmala project for port driven economic growth and development, could be game-changing initiatives with billions in new investments and induction of cutting edge designs and technologies running across the entire Blue Economy ecosystem.
The stakes are obviously high and India possesses fundamental capabilities for taking advantage of the emerging paradigm in the management of oceans. We need to fast transform these techno-legal strengths into effective and quality delivery tools for defending our long term economic and regulatory interests. A better prepared India could emerge as an important supplier of technology, know-how and capacities. A failure on this count would entail heavy cost, dependence on others for sensitive services/technologies and regulatory barriers.
While at the level of the government and think tanks, a lot of work is being done but the message must fast reach the business and society at large of the potential advantages of being prepared and risks of inaction. An important first step in this direction has been taken by FICCI by setting up a Task Force of stake holders from all Blue Economy related fields, which after painstaking efforts for over nine month has produced a KNOWLEDGE PAPER for the Indian Inc. providing a broad balance sheet of opportunities and challenges for their greater participation in this new paradigm of Blue Economy. However, a careful follow up with closer and direct participation of Indian and regional business would be a must for transforming these ideas into quality growth, lest we miss the boat.
(Anup Mudgal, Former Indian High Commissioner to Mauritius and member FICCI Task Force on Blue Economy)