Post-COVID recovery should lock in ocean sustainability, says Commonwealth Secretary-General

The Commonwealth Secretary-General is urging governments to ensure their countries’ post-COVID economic recoveries are environmentally sustainable and safe for the ocean.

Forty-seven of the Commonwealth’s 54 member countries have a coastline while 25 are either small island developing states or ‘big ocean states’ relying heavily on the ocean for food and income.

Sustainable blue and green economies

On World Oceans Day (8 June), Secretary-General Patricia Scotland calls on countries to reform development strategies in a way that supports vibrant and sustainable blue and green economies.

She said: “The ocean is the life blood of so many Commonwealth countries and our environment should be the cornerstone as we put plans in place to recover our economies. The Commonwealth covers more than a third of coastal oceans in the world, contributing to a global ocean-based economy valued at US$3 to 6 trillion per year.

“COVID-19 impact has radically altered some of our key economic sectors and transformed the way we live, communicate and do business. While the fallout from the pandemic has had a huge impact on our blue economies, it also presents a crucial opportunity to strategise on how to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable economic practices built on climate resilience and ocean sustainability.

“The Commonwealth Blue Charter is one of the most effective platforms for global ocean action in the international landscape today. I commend the work of our member countries through the action groups and welcome the support we have received from national, regional and global partners, enabling us to mobilise together for ocean health.”

Blue Charter action groups

The Blue Charter is the Commonwealth’s commitment to work together to protect the ocean and meet global ocean commitments. Ten action groups, led by 13 champion countries, are driving the flagship initiative. More than 40 countries have signed up to one or more of these action groups, and counting.

Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups include:

  • Sustainable Aquaculture (led by Cyprus)
  • Sustainable Blue Economy (Kenya)
  • Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius)
  • Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods (Sri Lanka)
  • Ocean Acidification (New Zealand)
  • Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji)
  • Ocean Observations (Canada)
  • Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (marine plastic pollution – United Kingdom, Vanuatu)
  • Marine Protected Areas (Seychelles)
  • Sustainable Coastal Fisheries (Kiribati)

Members of the private sector, academia and civil society – including Vulcan Inc, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Nekton Foundation and many others – are also engaged as Blue Charter partners.

Commonwealth Blue Charter – All Champions Meeting

Countries driving the Commonwealth Blue Charter project will meet in Cyprus from 21 to 24 March 2020. They will reflect on what they’ve achieved over the past year, and agree on a strategy for the coming year.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a landmark agreement by leaders to cooperate on ocean action. Since launching in 2018, 10 action groups led by 13 ‘champion’ countries have rallied Commonwealth members around pressing ocean issues like marine pollution, coral reef restoration and climate change.

Champion countries will share experiences, best practices and new ideas.

For more information, please contact Heidi Prislan, Commonwealth Blue Charter Adviser: [email protected] or [email protected]

Commonwealth countries taking lead on ocean-based climate action

A 14-strong international panel working to accelerate action for ocean protection features seven Commonwealth member countries.

Australia, Canada, Fiji, Namibia, Ghana, Jamaica and Kenya all helped produce a report unveiled at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit which found that ocean-based climate action can play a much bigger role in shrinking the world’s carbon footprint than was previously thought.

In fact it could deliver up to a fifth of the annual greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed in 2050 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Reductions of this magnitude are larger than annual emissions from all current coal fired power plants world-wide.

The report, launched in New York, is entitled ‘Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change: 5 Opportunities for Action’ and was produced by an expert international high-level panel made up of 14 heads of state and government.

The study is the first ever comprehensive, quantitative analysis into the role ocean-based solutions can play in the fight against climate change.

The report suggests the following solutions would help curb climate change, contribute to the development of a sustainable ocean economy, protect coastal communities from storms, provide jobs and improve food security:

  • Scaling up ocean-based renewable energy – which could save up to 5.4 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050, equivalent to taking over a billion cars off the road each year.
  • Decarbonising domestic and international shipping and transport – which could cut up to 1.8 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050.
  • Increasing the protection and restoration of “blue carbon” ecosystems – mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes – could prevent approximately 1 gigatonne of CO2e from entering the atmosphere by 2050.
  • Utilising low-carbon sources of protein from the ocean, such as seafood and seaweeds, to help feed future populations in a healthy and sustainable way

Australia is investing AUD$70 million in the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), a 10-year $329 million collaboration between 45 Australian and international partners to develop innovative and sustainable offshore industries to increase Australian seafood and marine renewable energy production.

Fiji is committing to making its shipping sector 100 per cent carbon-free by 2050 while Kenya will incorporate blue carbon ecosystems into its nationally determined contribution, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF.

Namibia is committing an additional US$5 million towards ocean research and protection over 2019/2020.

The report comes on the back of significant progress on the Commonwealth Blue Charter, Agreed unanimously by leaders in April 2018, the Blue Charter commits all 53 member countries to work together on solving crucial ocean-related challenges.

To date, 12 ‘champion’ countries have stepped forward to rally fellow members around nine key areas, including marine pollution, ocean acidification and the sustainable blue economy.

‘Fiji is leading on the Blue Charter Action Group on ‘oceans and climate change’, Kenya on the ‘sustainable blue economy’, Australia is co-leading on ‘coral reef protection and restoration’ and Canada on ‘ocean observation’.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources, Nick Hardman-Mountford, said: “This report unequivocally shows that ocean based climate action is integral to reducing the global carbon footprint.

“Commonwealth countries have already come forward with game changing commitments. The Commonwealth Blue Charter that all Commonwealth countries adopted last year provides an action-orientated collaborative mechanism for countries to address ocean issues. We look forward to working with the Commonwealth countries to share experiences, take real action and lead the way forward.”

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said: “Fiji is leading Pacific Island States in a united and visionary response to the ocean’s untapped potential to combat global warming.

“We are collectively committed to cutting 40 per cent of emissions from Pacific shipping by 2030, and we’re making our shipping sector 100 per cent carbon-free by 2050. Together, we’re moving towards managing our waters sustainably.”

‘This report was swiftly followed by a study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which warned that humanity is in a race against the pace of climate change and our ability to respond to it and calls for urgent, ambitious and collaborative action.

Ministers commit to join forces in climate change fight

Environment ministers from across the Commonwealth have jointly committed to work together to tackle the devastating impacts of climate change, build resilience and collaborate on ocean action.

During a roundtable side event at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, ministers with responsibility for the environment, oceans and climate change representing 26 countries across the Commonwealth agreed to a statement which commits them to work together “to tackle and reduce the devastating impacts of climate change on our countries’ peoples, economies, land and ocean environments”.

The written statement went on to add: “We will share our experiences and ideas to formulate multilateral actions across the Commonwealth”.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland opened the meeting entitled ‘Advancing ambition and accelerating action – Dialogue on climate change, resilience building and ocean action’.

She told ministers: “No country in our Commonwealth family is unaffected by the impacts of climate change.

“Now is the moment for us to bring our collective voice to bear on these defining issues of our time.”

The event was designed to boost the Commonwealth’s efforts towards reducing emissions, accelerating the rate of resilience-building and adaptation and using natural and marine resources in a sustainable manner (otherwise referred to as green and blue growth).

Ministers also:

  • Reaffirmed the need to pursue efforts to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C, as documented in the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report
  • Highlighted the commitments of Commonwealth countries to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement through revised nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020
  • Acknowledged the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and emphasised the role of the ocean in addressing climate change
  • Discussed the success of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s programmes on climate finance, cooperation on ocean action (Blue Charter), resilience building (including disaster risk finance portal, debt management, sustainable economic development) and sustainable energy transition and regenerative development.

The Secretary-General drew attention to the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, a service designed to help member countries untangle red tape around climate financing and make successful applications to international funds designed to tackle climate change effects.

She said: “The financing gaps for climate action, both for mitigation and adaptation measures remains significant. This hub is a hugely valuable addition to the pool of Commonwealth resources and practical assistance.”

Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, who delivered the keynote address added: “One of the problems of being a small state is lack of capacity – that’s why the Commonwealth and its many toolkits and the Climate Finance Access Hub are so important. But now the question is, how do we scale it up?”

In fact the hub has helped member countries access a total of USD 27million of funding – more than 35 times the original start-up investment of AUD 1 million from Australia.

Furthermore, nearly half a billion USD has been applied for and is in the pipeline for climate action projects across the Commonwealth.

Ministers also discussed the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a commitment to promote good ocean governance and protect the ocean, back by action groups to tackle threats such as pollution, over-fishing and the effects of climate change through shared, innovative approaches. They highlighted the inextricable link between climate change and ocean action.

To date, 12 countries have stepped forward to be Commonwealth Blue Charter Champions on nine topics identified as priorities. Topics include coral reef protection and restoration, ocean acidification, marine plastic pollution and marine protected areas.

Ministers agreed to meet again at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December, which is being badged as the ‘blue COP’. They will develop proposals for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2020 in order to strengthen financing mechanisms and help Commonwealth countries fulfil their climate mitigation, adaptation and ocean action commitments.

Canada gives $2.7 million boost for Commonwealth Blue Charter

New funding from the Government of Canada will help protect marine health and promote good ocean governance, aligned with the Commonwealth Blue Charter’s action group on ocean observation.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement made by the 53 member states to actively co-operate to solve ocean-related problems and achieve sustainable ocean development.

As one of world’s largest maritime nations, Canada champions one of nine ‘action groups’ that take the lead in rallying member countries and coordinating joint actions around a range of pressing ocean issues.

This week, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Jonathan Wilkinson announced a tranche of $2.7 million to advance ocean observation through innovation and development, and to promote the sharing of data, knowledge and best practices amongst Commonwealth countries. Better access to information will ensure decisions, products and services are based in ocean science.

Mr Wilkinson said: “Our government is committed to making our waters cleaner, safer and healthier for now and future generations. This investment will allow for continued innovation while working closely with our Commonwealth partners to share our ocean knowledge and make it accessible.

“Along with our focus on improving ocean data, we are committed to making gender equality and youth representation in the ocean sciences a priority. We continue to work with our Commonwealth partners and scientists of all backgrounds to further our knowledge of the ocean and how to protect it.”

Commonwealth Head of Oceans and Natural Resources, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford added that ocean observations are critical to understanding its impacts on people, communities and ecosystems.

The action group will develop strategies to build ocean literacy and inclusiveness – raising awareness about ocean issues, while engaging different sections of society, including marginalised groups. It aims to increase opportunities for women and youth in all disciplines, including science.

Dr Hardman-Mountford said: “Ocean observations allow countries to collect data, track trends, make new discoveries, and take science-backed policy decisions, which are all indispensable to achieving sustainable ocean governance.”

The funding announcement follows the first meeting of the action group in Ottawa, Ontario in May. Members outlined priorities and an action plan, and agreed to hold annual meetings to review progress on the various initiatives planned.

Blue Charter champs find allies for ocean action

Fresh alliances are set to flourish under the Commonwealth’s flagship programme for ocean action, known as the Blue Charter.

On Thursday, the Commonwealth and Bloomberg Philanthropies co-hosted an intensive partnership forum for ‘champion’ countries that have volunteered to lead action groups tackling ocean issues under the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

Gemma Read heads up Bloomberg’s Philanthropy & Engagement for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific. She said: “The power of partnerships delivers high impact solutions for some of the world’s greatest problems. We really believe that by combining our resources and our tools we are able to use that data to build ocean resilience around the world.”

Country representatives heard “pitches” and panels from around 40 potential partners from the private sector, science and research community, civil society and charities, all keen to work with them on issues such as coral reef protection, the ocean economy, and plastic pollution.

Countries sought out the best placed partners to help them address their needs, ambitions and constraints.

Participant Angela Braithwaite is the Caribbean director for Blue Finance, an NGO that provides sustainable financing for marine protected areas. She said: “The platform is great – it’s not often that you have so many different countries in one room, with a single focus, and who are interested in what you have to offer.”

Alain de Comarmond, Principal Secretary of the Department of Environment of Seychelles, added that he was encouraged by the support from such a wide range of potential partners, as well as the teamwork amongst group members.

There are currently nine action groups under the Blue Charter, striving to make headway on various ocean challenges, by sharing strategies, scaling up best practices and mobilising resources for shared projects.

The UK and Vanuatu, for instance, have rallied 27 member states so far to join their action group on marine plastic pollution, also known as the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance.

As Commonwealth Chair-in-Office, having chaired the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018, the UK has made available £66.4 million for projects that tackle marine litter. It has also joined other action groups on coral reef restoration and protection (co-championed by Australia, Belize and Mauritius), mangrove restoration (led by Sri Lanka), ocean and climate change (led by Fiji) and ocean acidification (led by New Zealand).

Paulo Kautoke, Senior Director for Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth said: “What we are trying to do here is to move the global ocean agenda forward. We hope that these action groups can become effective vehicles to deliver commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The day-long event wrapped up with a special address from prominent environmental activist Alexandra Cousteau, who urged delegates to “articulate a vision of abundance” and focus on pooling together ideas, technologies and innovations to ensure a vibrant future for the ocean.

The partnerships programme was co-organised with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans initiative, as part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter All Champions meeting held from18 to 21 June in London.