Blue Recovery webinar series seeks to make up for the missed “super year”

Published on
September 2, 2020

This year was supposed to be the “super year” for ocean sustainability, with many major events and gatherings planned to bring momentum and focus to the issue. However, COVID-19 has pushed the pause button for large gatherings and international travel, and has taken attention off of the environment.

In response to the obstacles facing the community of individuals and organizations focused on seafood sustainability issues, virtual meetings are being held to try to maintain the movement toward sustainability.

As the first 10-year cycle of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has just wrapped up with countries submitting progress reports, 2020 had been dedicated to reviewing the reports with the goal of identifying problematic areas. The U.N. Secretary-General did issue its yearly report on progress towards the 17 SDGs ahead of the 2020 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which was held virtually.

But the second Global Planning Meeting – U.N. Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), sponsored by the International Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and planned for 18 to 20 March in Paris, France was canceled. Additionally, the 2020 United Nations Ocean Conference, which was scheduled to take place from 2 to 6 June in Lisbon, Portugal, was postponed, and the Economist Group's seventh World Ocean Summit, which was to have taken place in Tokyo, Japan, on 9 and 10 March, was also canceled.

Instead, the Economist Group held the World Ocean Summit Insight Hour, a webinar in which the impact of COVID-19 on the ocean economy was discussed. Following the webinar, the group launched a second event, the Blue Recovery Series, a series of three webinars jointly organized by The Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF), The Nippon Foundation, and the Economist Group, focused on recovering from the pandemic in a sustainable manner.

The first webinar took place on 23 July, on Japan's National Marine Day, under the theme of "Ensuring a robust 'blue' recovery in Asia and the Pacific – Promoting Blue Recovery from COVID-19 and Achieving a Sustainable Ocean."

COVID-19 has caused declines in fishing and aquaculture due to supply-chain disruption, such as suspended airfreight and crews stranded by lockdowns. Tourism, an important part of seaside economies, has seen a precipitous decline. The danger is that the resulting economic downturn may take attention off sustainability initiatives, according to the webinar’s overview. On the other hand, reduced pressures on ocean ecosystems have resulted in some natural recovery. But there has also been an increase in the use of plastics, as more people turn to take-out food instead of dining at restaurants, thus contributing to the ocean plastics problem.

“The progress that we were hoping to make in 2020 towards a sustainable ocean economy has slowed,” Charles Goddard, The Economist’s Asia-Pacific editor and executive director of the World Ocean Summit and the World Ocean Initiative, and host of the webinar, said. “And undeniably, the focus that countries were beginning to have on the long-term opportunities, the long-term investments that we’re needing to make in the sustainable ocean economy, have now been dissipated, to some degree at least, because of the need of those countries to focus on the short-term issues they need to address – the measures they need to take in order to shore up their economies, to make sure that people have incomes and to make sure that we have some sort of recovery path.”

In the 23 July webinar, SPF President Atsushi Sunami, Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa, and Tommy E. Remengesau Jr., the president of the Republic of Palau, were keynote speakers and agreed most people do not recognize the grave state of the world’s oceans. Rememgesau discussed the country’s efforts to create and enforce a marine protected area (MPA), with the goal of supporting the country’s domestic artisanal fishing industry. Goddard brought up Palau’s loss of tourism, which caused a 23 percent GDP decline, and asked how Palau would find money for patrolling the MPA while also dealing with climate change. Rememgesau said the country is looking to its environmental partners and philanthropic organizations for assistance.

In the second webinar, titled "Science, innovation and the blue recovery," on 26 August, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP), stressed regional cooperation in addressing climate change and ocean plastic problems. Tatsuhiko Kashimura, managing director of Tokyo-based Refinverse Inc., spoke about plastic recycling. His company develops processing technology for recycling vinyl chloride resin from carpet tiles discarded from office building construction sites and by intermediary processing companies. The technology has potential for recycling of fishing nets, he said. And Japan Minister of the Environment Shinjiro Koizumi stressed the importance collaborative research and on sharing the ocean among different activities such as wind power farms and fishing.

Also in the webinar, several scientific efforts and innovative businesses were highlighted. The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project will compile bathymetry data and produce a global GEBCO grid. Bathymetry is the study of underwater depth of ocean floor. The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) is a publicly available bathymetric chart of the world's oceans. REV Ocean is the world’s largest yacht, now being fitted out research and expedition vessel and scheduled to be delivered in 2021. And Tokyo-based euglena Co., Ltd. produces many products from algae, including jet fuel, beauty products, and health foods.

The third webinar, titled "The blue recovery and the delayed ocean 'super' year," will take place Thursday, 3 September and is free of charge with pre-registration.

Photo courtesy of World Ocean Summit

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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