Businesses urged to dive into World Bank's $1.5bn Global Partnership for Oceans

The World Bank has today called on the business community to support an ambitious new global initiative designed to improve marine protection and tackle dwindling fish stocks.

Formally launched at The Economist’s World Oceans Summit in Singapore earlier today, the Global Partnership for Oceans already commands the support of a host of green NGOs, charities and businesses, many of which already invest heavily in marine protection schemes.

In a speech announcing the move, outgoing World Bank president Robert Zoellick said there was an urgent environmental and economic need for drastic reform of marine governance efforts and increased investment in marine protection and sustainable fishing practices.

“Oceans are the natural capital of all countries, developed and developing; all countries suffer from degradation of these ecosystems. There are close connections between land and water, human and ocean health, sustainable management and renewable benefits,” he said, adding that World Bank estimates showed that 350 million jobs worldwide are directly connected to marine environments through fishing, aquaculture and tourism.

“Oceans are the home of an under-recognized and under-appreciated ‘blue economy’. At a time when the world is looking for sources of growth, there is huge potential for ‘blue growth’ – wisely preserving and investing in the value of ocean ecosystems to fight poverty and improve lives.”

The initiative has been backed by the group of island nations, as well as a host of NGOs and science bodies, including the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Geographic Society, WWF, and the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Zoellick said that in addition the Prince’s Trust and the governments of Australia, Monaco, New Zealand and Norway were in discussions about potentially joining the group.

A number of businesses and business groups have also endorsed the plan, including the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), National Fisheries Institute, the World Ocean Council, and Darden Restaurants – one of the world’s largest seafood purchasers.

Zoellick said that private companies are “increasingly committed to establishing sustainable supplies of seafood”, but warned that the support of the private sector would be “critical” to the initiative’s success.

He explained that the Global Partnership was committed to mobilising at least $300m in “catalytic finance”, but would be looking to leverage a further $1.2bn of investment, taking the total commitment to $1.5bn over five years.

The investment is likely to focus on a wide range of projects, with the group setting itself goals of reforming marine governance, promoting better co-operation between the public and private sector bodies that impact the marine environment, and developing more sustainable fisheries management.

Specifically, Zoellick said the initiative had set itself a goal of rebuilding at least half of the world’s fish stocks that are currently regarded as depleted, reversing the net economic loss of fisheries from its current $5bn a year to a net benefit of between $20bn and $30bn a year, and more than doubling the area covered by marine protected areas from less than two per cent currently to five per cent

Controversially, he also argued that the governments and businesses should look to grow the sustainable aquaculture sector so it provides two-thirds of the world’s fish.

“Today, that figure is about 50 per cent, but there are serious concerns over disease management, feed use and introduction of non-native species,” he said. “We need to do much better, not only to help secure a reliable source of food, but also to take the pressure off of ocean fish stocks.”

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