Presidential committee on sustainable blue economy: The imperative of sustainable ocean economic development
On January 17, 2022, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo announced via his twitter handle, thus: “The President Buhari’s administration is set to explore the Blue Economy.” The Blue Economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems.
It entails emerging renewable energy, seabed extractive activities, marine biotechnology and bio-prospecting. Furthermore, “across Nigeria, there are bodies of water that can be exploited. The Blue Economy offers a whole new vista of opportunity for economic activity especially in areas close to the ocean.”
This is undoubtedly a good step in the right direction. In fact, the entirety of the intention of the Presidency, with regards to the VP’s announcement, represents an attempt to key into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water) which is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. This is consistent with the global consensus to build a sustainable Ocean Economy.
There is no doubt about the fact that the oceans, seas and coastal areas form an integrated and essential component of the earth’s ecosystems and are critical to sustainable development. They cover more than two-third of the earth’s surface and contain about 97 percent of the planet’s water. The Oceans also largely contribute to poverty eradication, by creating sustainable livelihoods. The Oceans are crucial for global food security and health. They are also primary regulators of the global climate.
Certain salient facts about the coastal areas are couched thus:
i. More than 200 countries have a coastline forming the basis for their claims to Territorial Waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).
ii. Globally, about 40 percent of the world population live within the “near coastal zone.”
iii. The Coastal Economy includes not only the sum of outputs from ocean resources, but also employment on or near the coast; making a disproportionately high contribution to the Economies of many countries and to the global ocean economy.
iv. The coastal zones host most of nations transport, commercial, residential and national defence infrastructure.
v. The coasts sustain livelihood for hundreds of millions of people in work that ranges from artisanal small-scale fisheries and aquaculture to transnational fishing, shipping, energy and tourism industries.
vi. 16 out of 31 megacities in the world lie on the coast.
vii. The coastal zones are the backbone to domestic and international supply chains that deliver the marine goods and services upon which we increasingly rely.
viii. Our increasingly urbanised societies are highly dependent upon coastal resources for food, energy, minerals and pharmaceuticals.
ix. These environments are intrinsically dynamic-shaped as they are, by the interaction of marine, terrestrial and atmospheric processes.
Following from the foregoing, the desire of the Nigerian state to explore the Blue Economy, would spur a wide range of economic activities; more particularly in the low-lying areas of the littoral states (Lagos, Ondo, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Ogun and Rivers). Some of these littoral states like Lagos and Ondo, share coastal boundaries with the Atlantic Ocean.
“The coastal ecosystems are diverse; forming a mosaic of interconnected seascapes, which vary latitudinally from the tropics to poles, across intertidal and cross-shelf gradients from land to ocean, and in relation to the amount of tidal and wave energy”. The coasts sustain livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people in work that range from artisanal small-scale fisheries and aquaculture to transnational fishing. The increasingly urbanized human societies also depend largely on the coastal resources for energy, food, minerals and pharmaceuticals.
Considering the economic importance of the coastal areas, there is no doubt about the fact that coastal ecosystems are undergoing profound changes, as they are challenged by climate change, threatened by urbanisation and poor upstream agriculture and extractive industry practices; increasing sprawl of coastal infrastructure and over-exploitation of coastal resources.
Consequent upon this, storm surges are becoming more profound and there would be more fatal incursion into the coastal areas and other coastal land formations; destroying the habitat immediately adjacent to the oceans, causing a coastal squeeze and the destruction of intertidal zones, and even land run off which would further lead to ocean acidification that would then, destroy aquatic habitat that ought to be preserved for commercial exploitation and tourism.
The challenges of climate change and the worsening of same make it incumbent that, any fresh or new/nascent/emerging development or exploration in any coastal area going forward, must as a matter of necessity, however, through policies, rigorously research and invest in Coastal Resilience.
Undoubtedly, if we do not change the way we manage and adapt our use of the coastal environment, there will be profound consequences for the resilience of coastal environments and the communities that rely upon them.
It’s incumbent on the recently inaugurated “Expanded Partnership Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy (comprising State Governors, Cabinet Ministers, Representatives of the Military, Security Agencies and the Private Sector) to explore the potency of an Integrated Coastal Zone Mechanism that comprises capacity building and knowledge sharing; Collaborations and partnerships; Innovative Financing and an integrated management, such that would develop alternative livelihoods & increase resilience for coastal dependent communities, implement cumulative environmental and social impact assessment and eliminate over-exploitation of coastal resources among others.
Typically, an Integrated Coastal Zone Management mechanism would do the following: Enhance value by preserving and conserving natural systems; Identify natural hazards and reduce vulnerability; Apply comprehensive assessment to the coasts; Lower risks by exceeding building standards; Adopt successful global practices; Adopt market-based development incentives; Address social concerns, and protect water resources.
Olatubora, a lawyer, writes from Lagos