Huge progress is being made in taking action on climate change, but all too often we focus on land-based issues and solutions while neglecting the vital role our oceans play in our planetary ecosystem. 

After World Oceans Day, the reality of the impact we’re having on the oceans is stark. A new report by KPMG, titled You Can’t Have Blue Without the Green, explores the ecological nature of our blue planet, the threats facing our oceans, and the opportunities for businesses and investors to contribute to positive change.

According to the report, our oceans produce 50-80% of the oxygen we breathe, and it captures a massive 30-70% of the CO2 produced by humans. Our oceans are as vital as our forests, and if we hope to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and achieve the SDGs, we’re going to need much greater focus on our oceans. 

The challenges operate on a number of levels, but an overriding issue is that of ownership and accountability, where the ocean is under international jurisdiction there is a very real threat of exploitation and overuse. Multilateral collaboration will be vital, but as with any ‘commons’ there are powerful short-term incentives for individuals to take the spoils, ignoring long-term environmental destruction.

And more tangible are the specific environmental impacts: ocean acidification, biodiversity loss to human impacts such as sea-level rises. 

This is an economic problem as much as a regulatory one. It’s environmental, but it’s also ethical. When 80% of international cargo is carried on the sea, and when 3 billion people depend on marine eco-systems for their livelihoods, the solutions will never be easy. 

“Our ocean is our biggest natural carbon sink and provides habitats for important species and critical marine ecosystems that are indispensable for biodiversity. It is also vital to the world’s economy – as a source of food, energy, raw materials and jobs for millions of people. At the heart the problem lies the system we’ve created which does not currently value our ocean as a finite natural asset that could cease to be in supply if not properly managed.” says Carolin Leeshaa, Head of Social & Sustainable Finance at KPMG, and co-author of the report.

Corporate executives and policy makers alike are no stranger to making trade-off decisions. The battle with climate change has been a prelude to the challenges we face as a human race, to balance our dangerously efficient ability to harvest raw materials, with caring for the environmental resources that produce them in the first place. 

KPMG’s report outlines the growing trend of resource extraction from the sea floor, and the potential for energy production on its surface. It emphasises that, if it’s to remain sustainable, it must involve: “green principles of decoupling economic activity from environmental and ecosystem degradation.”

For the ‘learners’, those that are just beginning their sustainability journey; the focus should be on the principle of do-no-harm, whether it be shipping companies or insurers, there are ways to minimise one’s impact. 

For the leaders, those that have the resources and the expertise to make positive change, reporting is vital, as is finding ways to effectively value the resources being used, and the costs of degradation. And, much like our terrestrial environment, developing a circular economic system will reduce consumption, damage, while also smoothing out supply-chain impacts. 

In terms of ‘blue finance’, the report touches on a range of innovative solutions, like ‘blue bonds’, but admits they’re inherently more complicated than their terrestrial counterparts. But there are examples, like that in the Seychelles, where impact capital has enabled the conservation of the second largest Marine Protected Area in the West Indian Ocean.

“Over the past few years, there has been a wave of ‘ocean-friendly’ financing solutions. Whilst the ticket sizes are often still small, the variety of emerging ‘blue finance’ models have been growing steadily. Similarly, the emergence of environmental market-based incentive mechanisms for conservation management activities of our oceans, coastal and marine ecosystems have the potential to create an entirely new playing field and are now needed more than ever to sustain and safeguard our ocean’s natural ability as a blue carbon sink.” Carolin Leeshaa explains.

It’s clear that our oceans are in crisis, and as we cheer on progress in battling climate change, we must turn our attention to this new front of environmental harm. The good news is that the gravity of the situation is being explored, reported and acted upon. Reports like these from KPMG are dissecting these monumental problems into bite-size pieces. Without lessening the gravity of the situation, they create practical models for action

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