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Achieving a Sustainable and Equitable Ocean Economy Within the Ocean Decade

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, known as the Ocean Decade, was declared by the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly with the aim to enhance our relationship with the ocean and promote sustainable development. As part of the Ocean Decade, 10 Challenges were outlined as the most immediate priorities to be solved before the end of the decade: 2030.  

In 2023, the Vision 2030 Working Groups were established to address each of the ten Decade challenges. The UNSW Centre for Sustainable Development Reform is supporting Working Group 4 on its mission to develop a sustainable and equitable ocean economy.  

The Importance of the Ocean Economy 

The ocean economy encompasses all economic activity that relates to the ocean, including many of the industries essential for global human well-being, from fisheries and shipping to tourism and renewable energy. For example, 

  • Fishing sustains the livelihoods of > 600 million people, with 40% of global marine and inland fishing capture provided through small-scale fisheries.  
  • The ocean facilitates up to 90% of global trade through maritime shipping, vital for the economies of Small Island Developing States and other coastal communities.  

Despite its significance, the benefits of the ocean economy are not equitably distributed, and unsustainable practices have led to environmental degradation, threatening the resilience of marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. 

"Over the past 12 months, 20 co-chairs and more than 150 experts have worked tirelessly to assess current user needs, identify priority datasets, and highlight gaps in science and knowledge." - UN Ocean Decade

Welcome to Challenge 4: Develop a Sustainable and Equitable Ocean Economy 

To address this challenge, the White Paper for Challenge 4 was developed by the multistakeholder experts of Working Group 4. The White Paper explores the key strategies, recommendations, and milestones necessary to achieve the vision of a sustainable and equitable ocean economy by 2030. The Paper provides a comprehensive framework to guide the development of a sustainable and equitable ocean economy, with the aim to transition towards sustainable practices that balance economic growth with environmental conservation and social equity. 

What does success look like? Strategic ambition and Vision for 2030 

By 2030, success for Ocean Decade Challenge 4 will be marked by  

  • The formulation of a knowledge-driven framework for informed decision-making and policy-formulation; 
  • Enhanced collaboration among stakeholders, ensuring diverse community engagement, and equitable benefit sharing; and 
  • Strategic mobilisation of blue finance to support investments in sustainable coastal and marine infrastructure, innovative technologies, and conservation efforts. 

How do we get there?  

  1. Strategic Partnerships: Establish robust partnerships with governments, NGOs, the private sector, academia, and civil society. Partnerships should focus on inclusivity and collaboration across sectors to develop and implement solutions for a sustainable and equitable ocean economy. 
  2. Targeted Mobilisation of Resources: Develop dedicated financial mechanisms to support sustainable ocean economy projects, prioritising those that integrate environmental conservation with socio-economic benefits for local communities. 
  3. Private Sector Involvement: Encourage businesses operating in marine and coastal sectors to adopt sustainable practices and invest in green technologies, contributing positively to the ocean economy while ensuring the well-being of marine ecosystems and local communities. 
  4. Community-Led Initiatives: Support community-led initiatives for sustainable ocean resource use, ensuring local involvement in decision-making and equitable sharing of the benefits derived from ocean resources. 
  5. Policy Development: Implement comprehensive policies and governance frameworks to promote sustainable management of ocean resources and ensure equitable access and benefits distribution among all stakeholders, particularly marginalised and indigenous communities. 

How do we measure progress?  

To measure progress towards the strategic ambition several key milestones and indicators have been identified: 

  1. By 2025: Enhance the integration and accessibility of priority datasets to inform sustainable and equitable economic decisions. 
  2. By 2027: Implement capacity-building initiatives that empower stakeholders to participate in and contribute to a sustainable and equitable ocean economy. 
  3. By 2028: Develop and adopt policy frameworks that are sustainable and governance mechanisms that support equitable and environmentally responsible economic activities. 
  4. By 2029: Ensure stakeholder engagement that is inclusive and meaningful in the planning and implementation of ocean economy strategies. 
  5. By 2030: Mobilise and increase funding dedicated to supporting sustainable and equitable ocean economy initiatives with a focus on innovative and nature-based solutions. 

To achieve a sustainable and equitable ocean economy by 2030, we need a dynamic, multifaceted strategy. This involves forging strategic partnerships, mobilising resources effectively, engaging the private sector, empowering community-led initiatives, and developing strong policies. By concentrating on these crucial areas and tracking progress with clear milestones and indicators, we can guarantee that the benefits of the ocean are shared equitably and sustainably, ensuring a thriving marine environment for future generations.  

Authors: Liz Hollaway and Bella Charlesworth