Trade and Development Board, seventieth session: High-level segment

Statement by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD

Trade and Development Board, seventieth session: High-level segment

19 June 2023


Decarbonization opportunities and challenges in the Blue Economy

Your excellency, Ambassador Khalil HASHMI, president of the 70th Trade and Development Board

Again, thank you very much for stepping up as President of the 70th Trade and Development Board. We had a great session his morning and I am sure we are going to have a great session this afternoon.

Your excellencies, Distinguished delegates

Ladies and gentlemen, Fellow citizens of this blue planet and dear members of the panel

This is a fantastic panel. Thank you very much for being with us.

I am really deeply honored to have you all here to take part in this important conversation today. We have an excellent panel coming up, with some world-leading experts on the subject of the blue economy. So, I want to be very short here, and focus only on setting the scene for this conversation, as I am very eager to hear from our panelists today.

We find ourselves in an era where the relevance and significance of the blue economy cannot be overstated. As someone who hails from the beautiful Costa Rica, a country that is intricately connected to the oceans, this conversation is particularly close to my heart.

Around 3 billion people, or 40 per cent of our global population, reside near coastlines. Our oceans are treasure troves of assets such as fisheries, shipping lanes, tourism that are estimated to be worth at least $24 trillion. According to UNCTAD, the value of global exports in ocean-based goods and services was $1.3 trillion in 2020, which represents about 6 per cent of global trade that year. The blue economy is therefore an important part of any development strategy.

Our oceans, however, are not just economic powerhouses. They are guardians of our planet. The ocean ecosystems protect coastal areas and are vital in regulating the climate, absorbing a staggering 90 per cent of the excess heat created by climate change. The climate affects the ocean, and the ocean in turn affects the climate.

But, as we convene today, we must recognize the plight that climate change poses to the blue economy, affecting food production, increasing natural disasters, decreasing fisheries productivity, and causing ocean acidification, among other challenges. The brunt of these effects is borne by countries and communities that have historically contributed minimally to greenhouse emissions and are under-equipped for adaptation. This is where climate justice takes center stage.

Many developing countries have rallied to the call for net-zero emissions by 2050, which is essential to meet the Paris Agreement’s target. Decarbonization, particularly in energy-intensive sectors such as maritime transport and fisheries, which respectively account for 2.8 per cent and 4 per cent respectively of global emissions, is fundamental.

But we must be in this together. We must act with speed to make the blue economy resilient to climate change, but we must be aware of the unforeseen and differentiated impacts that our policies can have on the most vulnerable countries. We need to ensure the most vulnerable have access to the right technologies, resources, and capacities, not doing so will endanger the livelihood of 150 million people who depend on the ocean for sustenance, but also millions more engaged in carbon-intensive export sectors who might suffer from market-access obstacles.

This is why trade is so important. Trade can bolster technology transfer and provide access to environmental goods and services, which are essential to the low carbon transition.

For instance, half of emission reduction can be achieved through energy efficiency and Renewables. And here, the technology is already available, but not necessarily accessible to countries in need.

There is also a glaring gap in investment - an estimated $175 billion per year is needed to achieve SDG14 by 2030, and yet, between 2015 and 2019, just below 10 billion was actually invested. Making matters worse, historically SDG14 has been the most underfunded of all SDGs in terms of ODA, garnering the smallest share of Official Development Assistance (less than 2 per cent of all ODA for SDG14). Forgive the pun – but this is just a “drop in the ocean” and given what we are talking about, it is very worth it.

To deal with these inequalities, last April, UNCTAD launched the Trade and Environment Review 2023, calling for a “Blue Deal” to increase investment in sustainable ocean-based goods and services, and to ensure that action is global, fair, and multilateral.

A key point here, where we are working very hard, refers to plastics. There is perhaps no greater symbol of the urgency and interlink between sustainable development and the blue economy, as the pernicious effect plastics are having on our oceans.

About 8 to 12 per cent of plastics end in the seas, most of it in the Pacific, in islands that have contributed minimally to climate change, and who have historically consumed very little plastic. 85 per cent of all the plastics in the Pacific did not originate from there. Despite that, these islands are bearing the costs associated with these plastics – cleaning them up, saving their ecosystems, salvaging their tourism industry and blue economies in general. So here we have an issue of economics, of sustainability, and also of intrinsic international justice. At UNCTAD, as part of the Bridgetown Covenant’s expanded mandate, we are spearheading a project on plastics substitutions, who could not only reduce plastic pollution by almost 20 per cent, but which could also provide important jobs and increase the value of key commodities from the global south, such as bamboo.

At the same time, we also see immense potential in South-South Trade initiatives such as the Global System of Trade Preferences among developing countries (GSTP) for creating low-carbon markets and building resilient value chains.

As I pass on the word to our distinguished panelists in this high-level segment, I hope we can hear from them how to chart paths for the decarbonization of ocean sectors, explore options, priorities, policy avenues, and collaboration opportunities.

In closing, let us remember that our oceans are not just vast bodies of water; they are the lifeblood of our planet, cradles of life and economy. They need our protection and sustainable stewardship. It is time for us to navigate these waters with determination, ingenuity, and solidarity. Courage and creativity you said, Mr. President, in the beginning of today session in this morning. So, we need that also for this subject.

I thank you and have a wonderful time.