United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Special Envoy for the Ocean: Speech at the 3rd Abu Dhabi Sustainable Finance Forum

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

All courtesies observed.

I thank the organisers for giving me the privilege of addressing you all today on a subject that has in recent years assumed such vital importance to us all. I refer to the development of the Sustainable Blue Economy and the requirement that we take the blue-green recovery route out of the coronavirus pandemic.

These days, use of the word ‘vital’ is often either imprecise or hyperbole, but not so when it comes to the Sustainable Blue Economy. Allow me to expand on that assertion. Coming from one of the Pacific Islands, I find it incredibly difficult to imagine a world without coral reefs, but that is essentially what the IPCC has told us will be the case once we go through the dreaded line of 2˚ Celsius global warming.

If that sounds extreme to you, I ask you to consider for a moment that current trends, as presented by the World Meteorological Organisation, have us on a trajectory that takes us to around 4˚ Celsius global warming before the end of the current century. Four degrees! Double the level at which coral is gone!

The Climate Crisis touches all our lives, yet, as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, put it in his speech at the Blue COP in Madrid, we are knowingly destroying the life-support systems of this planet.

That being the reality of our times, why then is the subject of Sustainable Finance for the Sustainable Blue Economy so vital? I place the answer within the assertion that in any global discussion on the existential challenge of our planet’s rapidly declining Biodiversity, the Ocean must be front and centre. Why? Because the Ocean hosts the great majority of Biodiversity, in other words Life, on this planet.

Marine science informs us that the Ocean’s health is in deep trouble, principally due to our burgeoning levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, but also to our long-standing harmful fisheries practices and policies, our wanton destruction of natural habitats, and our unconscionable levels of pollution. To reverse that decline in the Ocean’s health, we have to implement SDG14’s principles of sustainability, at the heart of which is the Sustainable Blue Economy.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We can’t have a healthy planet without a healthy Ocean. That is why Sustainable Finance for the Sustainable Blue Economy is of vital importance to us all. All relevant studies show that enabling the required financial flows into sustainable coastal and offshore projects, will turn the tide on the destruction of life in the Ocean, thereby giving our children and grandchildren the environmental security we want for them and those who follow.

Something that I find very rewarding, is the way the Sustainable Blue Economy has come to the fore in recent years. I think back to the highly successful Sustainable Blue Economy Conference hosted by the governments of Kenya, Canada and Japan in Nairobi in 2018 and the influence that African conference had on subsequent global developments related to the sustainability of the Ocean’s economy.

I think of the OECD’s steadfast commitment in recent years to the development of the Sustainable Blue Economy, through the holding of special events and the production of a series of excellent reports

I think also of the expert work being done through the Friends of Ocean Action at the World Economic Forum and the incredible outreach of the Interactive Ocean Dialogues that they organised for the June week in which the UN Ocean Conference was to have been held last year, drawing thousands of participants to such sessions as ‘Building Sustainable Ocean Economies’.

I ask you all to look at the findings of the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, especially its recent Transformations report. I applaud the setting of global standards for the development of the Ocean Economy through such initiatives as the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles and I urge responsible banks, insurers and investors to sign up to the principles which they can do by contacting UNEP FI.

It is also hugely encouraging to witness the Ocean Economy financing mechanisms being established by the multilateral financial institutions, led by the World Bank’s Pro Blue multi-donor trust fund to support sustainable and integrated development of marine resources; along with the Asian Development Bank’s $5 billion action plan for a healthy ocean and sustainable blue economy.

What I find particularly gratifying is the way all this work from all these institutions and organisations, and so many others, is converging on the same action points for development of the Sustainable Blue Economy. All of these action points are readily attainable over the Decade ahead: offshore renewable energy, the greening of shipping, sustainable aquaculture, investment in sewerage and wastewater infrastructure for coastal communities, coastal and marine habitat protection, and underlying it all, comprehensive, science-based, marine spatial plans.

The results of all this good work will be distilled when we gather in Lisbon at the UN Ocean Conference, advancing into the UN Decade of Ocean Science with science-based action and innovation getting us to the targets we set in SDG14’s goal of conserving and sustainably using the Ocean’s resources.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Everything is connected, from economies to ecosystems, from industry to biodiversity, and thanks to initiatives like TCFD, the banking sector, insurers and investors are now conscious that their financial activities impact on the health of the ocean. Financial institutions provide the financing, investment and insurance required to power ocean-related sectors, and we know that financial decisions taken today impact the lives and livelihoods of future generations. It is therefore critical here and now that financial flows are directed towards the sustainability of the blue economy.

Before concluding my remarks today, I would like to congratulate the United Arab Emirates for its assumption of the Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, thereby facilitating regional cooperation linked to the Ocean and economic sustainability. I assure those responsible of my ready support to the Chair in this far-reaching work.

I would also like to take this opportunity to applaud the determination of the Abu Dhabi Global Market, during these difficult times of pandemic, in organising the annual Abu Dhabi Sustainable Finance Forum. All I ask of them today on the Ocean’s behalf, humbly, but in the light of the logic of our times, is that they maintain the place of the Sustainable Blue Economy on the agenda of future Sustainable Finance Forums. For I say again, “No healthy planet without a healthy Ocean.”

Thank you for your kind attention to my words.