Feb 29, 2012
World Bank launches global coalition for marine protection
The Global Partnership for Oceans, a coalition of governments, NGOs, scientists and businesses, is a political boost for the world's overfished, heavily polluted and increasingly warming oceans.
More controversially it proposes the expansion of aquaculture (farmed fish) to provide two-thirds of the world's fish, up from half today, to alleviate pressure on wild fish as a growing human population increasingly looks to the sea for protein.
Unveiling the plan, the World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, warned that marine ecosystems, which cover more than 70% of the surface of the planet, have deteriorated to a perilous level.
"The world's oceans are in danger, and the enormity of the challenge is bigger than one country or organisation. We need co-ordinated global action to restore our oceans to health," he told the Economist's World Ocean Summit in Singapore.
The alliance brings together many nations and organisations that are already attempting to alleviate what is, after the climate, the ultimate "tragedy of the commons" – the running down of resources that are largely owned by no one, exploited by anyone and woefully unregulated.
Among the confirmed backers are small island states, many leading conservation organisations – including Conservation International, WWF, the Nature Conservancy, and business groups commited to sustainable practices. The World Bank is also in discussion with other potential supporters, including the Prince's Trust and the governments of Australia, Monaco, New Zealand, and Norway.
But the success or failure of the partnership is likely to be determined by its ability to find funding and reach out to leading economies in Europe, North American and big developing nations, such as China, India, Indonesia and Brazil, where increasingly affluent and large populations are looking to the oceans for more protein, energy and minerals. Many are reluctant to accept protection measures that might constrain opportunities to exploit these resources.
Zoellick – who is approaching the end of his tenure at the World Bank – says the first step is promoting greater awareness of the value of oceans – for example, in absorbing carbon dioxide and regulating weather patterns – and then helping governments to incorporate this in their policies.
"Oceans are the home of an under-recognised and underappreciated 'blue economy'," he said.
But he still needs to find the money to push this initiative. The partnership is committed to mobilising at least $300m in catalytic finance and aims to use that to leverage another $1.2bn from businesses, NGOs and other institutions.
About the author
Jonathan Watts is the Guardian's Asia environment correspondent.