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Are our oceans worth $24 trillion?

Q Phia
Image: Q. Phia / Flickr

To celebrate Seagrass Awareness Month, and in recognition of 2018 being the International Year of the Reef, we're re-posting this 2015 article from our partners at WWF, exploring how the Earth's marine ecosystems deliver invaluable, irreplaceable services and resources to the global economy, and asking - can we really put a dollar value on the ocean?


Our oceans are worth at least $24 trillion, according to a new WWF report Reviving the Ocean Economy: The case for Action. And goods and services from coastal and marine environments amount to about $2.5 trillion each year—that would put the ocean as the seventh largest economy in the world if put into terms of Gross Domestic Product.

The economic values listed in the new report are conservative, as outputs—such as wind energy—are not generated by the ocean, and were therefore excluded from the report. Valuable intangibles, such as the ocean’s role in climate regulation or production of oxygen, were also left out. Working with the Boston Consulting Group and the Global Change Institute, WWF developed this report to marry scientific evidence with potential impacts aligned with current trends, making it one of the first to produce an economic assessment of this kind.

“The oceans are our ‘natural capital’ — a global savings account from which we keep making only withdrawals. To continue this pattern leads one place: bankruptcy. It is time for significant reinvestment and protection of this global commons.”

Brad Ack, Senior Vice President for Oceans at WWF

The report identifies eight urgent, achievable actions that can help turn oceans around and allow it to continue to meet the essential needs of humanity and nature, ranging from taking global action to avoiding dangerous climate changes to driving international cooperation and investment for the oceans:

  1. Governments must embrace the Sustainable Development Goals, with their strong targets and indicators for the ocean, and commit to coherent policy, financing, trade and technology frameworks to restore and protect ocean ecosystems as part of the UN Post-2015 Agenda process. 
  2. Leaders must address the serious problems of ocean warming and acidification. We must listen to science and make the deep cuts in emissions that will prevent further increases in dangerous climate change. It is vital that the world signs on to an ambitious international agreement in Paris in December 2015 (COP21) that will allow the rapid decarbonization of our economies and societies. 
  3. Coastal countries must deliver against the agreed target for at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas to be conserved and effectively managed by 2020, with an increase to 30 per cent by 2030. This is not just about the extent of area protected; it is about establishing ecologically coherent, representative networks of marine protected areas that help ensure the strongest outcomes for biodiversity, food security and livelihoods. 
  4. Habitat protection and fisheries management must go hand in hand.
    Institutional arrangements for managing the ocean should reflect the fact that an integrated approach for ecologically managed fisheries must focus on ecosystem resilience and function, as well as economic and social well-being. 
  5. Global crises require global solutions. Given the transboundary nature of the ocean, we need appropriate international mechanisms for negotiation and collaboration to ensure its sustainable management. Formation of a “Blue Alliance” of concerned maritime states will provide leadership and build the case for a rapid and comprehensive set of actions on behalf of the ocean. Such a coalition could cultivate international will and foster the shared global responsibility and informed decision-making that are crucial when it comes to ocean resources. It will also be important to establish a global fund to support countries that have fewer resources and are more vulnerable to the impacts of ocean degradation. 
  6. Appropriately structured public-private partnerships that take into account the well-being of communities, ecosystems and business have the potential to revolutionize how sectors work together sustainably. Enabling a network of such cross-sectoral partnerships (public, private and community) to share ideas, solutions and blueprints for sustainable practices will ensure that even the least developed countries will have access to the necessary resources. 
  7. Communities and countries must develop complete, transparent and public accounting of the benefits, goods and services that the ocean provides. Valuing the ocean’s assets is vitally important to helping inform effective decision-making. 
  8. There is a need for an international platform to support and share ocean knowledge through which problems can be understood, and solutions and methodologies evaluated and applied. Such a platform must be interdisciplinary and informed by biological, social and economic data. This platform will build capacity and improve access to critical information and expertise. 

This year marks a unique opportunity for the future of our oceans, as international negotiations on climate change and sustainable development will soon to take place. In the days following the report release the US government takes a leadership role as Chair of the Arctic Council. Working with the 7 other Arctic member nations the US may chart a path for a sustainable future, critical for the health of people, species, and a thriving global economy of marine goods and services

Further information about the WWF report available here.


Image credit: "green turtle 4 lekuan 1, siladen, indone" (CC BY 2.0) by q.phia

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