L to R: Jorge Barbosa, Pawan Patil, Timila Dhakhwa, Lisbet Kugler, Gabriel Reygondeau, Safiya Sawney

In a livestream forum hosted by Yale Blue Green, Yale’s environmental alumni group, a panel of scholars, experts, and practitioners discussed the crucial role of the world’s oceans in human survival and their impact on the global economy – providing everything from food, jobs, and trade to medicines, commodities, and energy. Collectively this ocean-based economy is known as the blue economy.

Moderating the program was Jorge Barbosa ’13 MESc, a blue economy specialist at the World Bank, who stressed the importance of safeguarding the ocean as an existential priority for current and future generations.

“The framework remains balancing and protecting this natural asset for humanity as a whole, whether its business, growth, survival, and the like,” he said. “The ocean and coastal marine resources have always been a part of our lives, whether we think about them or not.”

Joining Barbosa in the dialogue were:

  • Dr. Pawan G. Patil – Senior economist, World Bank
  • Timila Dhakhwa ’16 MEM – Climate change specialist, World Bank
  • Lisbet Kugler ’01 MESc – Senior environmental specialist, World Bank
  • Dr. Gabriel Reygondeau – Ocean scientist, University of British Columbia
  • Safiya Sawney – Caribbean policy lead, Oceans Unite

The Ocean in Life and Climate

An important fact not widely known about the world’s oceans is that they sequester 25% of emitted carbon dioxide globally, according to Patil.

“Our planet’s coasts and oceans are really building blocks for the oxygen that we breathe and for life,” he said, underscoring that human activity has a direct impact on the ocean’s capacity to continue this essential service. “Everybody needs to make sure that the ocean is well preserved and guarded because it’s the very life and lungs of our planet.”

Reygondeau added that the ocean is a major climate regulator, serving as the planet’s primary buffer against global warming. He warned, however, that as ocean temperature rises, the ocean becomes less effective in this role.

“The more the ocean is getting warmer, the less it acts as a buffer, explaining why you have exponential climate change,” he said. 

The encouraging news, according to Dhakhwa, is that as governments and the international community continue to learn more about climate change, they can build up their capacity, employ new technologies, and initiate major projects to curb planet-warming emissions and sequester carbon. The ocean would play a key role in this process.

“The ocean, which was previously seen more as a victim of climate change, has now been seen as a solution,” she said.

The Green in the Blue Economy

The panelists highlighted the significance of the world’s oceans not only for the health and welfare of every person on the planet, but also for our financial and economic prosperity, affecting all sectors and industries.

Citing figures and projections from the World Bank and OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), Patil stated that the biggest driver of global economic growth over the next 20 years will come from our ocean space.

“In 2010, the annual return on the ocean economy was conservatively about $1.5 trillion,” he said. “By 2030, we estimate the annual return will be about $3 trillion per year.”

Kugler, who has studied the role of the private sector in the blue economy, noted that the fishing industry alone, in addition to providing a significant source of protein for 40% of the world’s population, is a major employer.

“It’s an important form of livelihood,” she said. “Ten to 12% of the global population has jobs in that field.”

She warned, however, that worldwide demand for fish and fish-based products has led to 85% of marine fish stocks being fully exploited or overfished, creating an unsustainable cycle that requires immediate action to address.

“The blue economy is not a free-for-all that can be harvested indefinitely,” she said. “It needs to be done cautiously and with care.”

Sawney, who hails from Grenada and has worked with her home country’s government to help craft a vision and policies around the blue economy, said it is especially important for island nations and ocean-facing developing countries to consider “national government priorities and new innovation that would yield progress towards sustainable socioeconomic development guided by conservation and sustainable use of critical marine resources.”

She added that every nation deriving economic benefits from the ocean must, based on its situation and circumstances, figure out a way to balance this imperative with sustainability and ocean health in mind.

“The blue economy does not fit a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said. “To put this into perspective, blue economy development in the African, Mediterranean, and Indian region would differ vastly than blue economy development in the Caribbean.”

Greening the Blue Economy

Mindful of the challenges facing the international community in working together to protect our ocean spaces and ensure that the ocean economy is growing sustainably, the speakers affirmed the pivotal role of the scientific community.

“The evidence-based approach to science should be what guides our efforts,” said Barbosa, who emphasized the need for an integrated approach involving not only government and the public sector, but also non-governmental and private sector partners.

Dhakhwa added that this must be paired with forward thinking that takes advantage of the latest ideas and emerging technologies.

“We need to reimagine the blue economy and try to push for newer business models and promote more new technologies that can help us revitalize the sector,” she said. “We need a mind shift in this area.”

Patil said that until major changes are instituted to harvest the ocean and marine resources sustainably, a truly blue economy will remain an aspiration. He noted with optimism, however, that with proper care and stewardship, the world's oceans can continue to provide a bounty of resources and economic benefits for generations to come.

“For all of you Yalies who are thinking about starting a business or growing or expanding your business, you gotta think blue, because blue is the future of the people and the planet.”