UNCTAD’s 2023 Trade and Environment Review: How ocean sustainability can be promoted

The UNCTAD Trade and Environment Review 2023 examines the world’s ocean economy and explores how it can be driven towards a sustainable future.

According to the report, there is an urgent need for a global Blue Deal to boost investment in protecting our ocean and sustainably using its resources. The ocean economy is worth between $3 trillion and $6 trillion and offers vast opportunities for developing countries to build resilience.

However, the report notes that marine resources are under threat from climate change, pollution and overfishing. About 11 million tons of plastic flow into the ocean each year. Globally, 34% of fish stocks have fallen to levels that are biologically unsustainable. The livelihoods of around 3 billion people, the majority of whom reside in coastal developing countries, are at danger.


Global Blue Deal urgently needed

The Sustainable Development Goal dedicated to life below water (SDG 14) is the least funded of all the goals. The report proposes that what’s required is a global Blue Deal to invest in safeguarding marine resources and building a resilient ocean economy that benefits all.

Estimates show an investment of $2.8 trillion in four sustainable solutions – conservation and restoration of mangroves, decarbonization of international shipping, sustainable ocean-based food production and offshore wind energy – would yield benefits of $15.5 trillion by 2050.

SDG #14 – Life below water

  • Increasing acidification is threatening marine life and limiting the ocean’s capacity to moderate climate change
  • 17+ million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2021, projected to double or triple by 2040
  • 90% of the world’s fishers are employed in small-scale fisheries

The deal would also drive investment into new sustainable sectors – including seaweed farming and plastics substitutes – that could benefit many vulnerable islands and coastal countries.

UNCTAD calls for

  • Implement the key priorities for ocean cooperation adopted at the 2nd UN Ocean Conference and new commitments made in other multilateral agreements that benefit the ocean.
  • Urgently bridge the ocean funding gap, boosting investment in emerging sustainable sectors and promoting blended finance to enhance cooperation between public and private actors.
  • Include the goal of promoting a sustainable ocean economy in crisis recovery strategies and climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.
  • Improve the collection, management and sharing of statistics, and contribute to UNCTAD’s database and classification of ocean sectors.

Diversifying ocean-based exports to build resilience

Without a global accord, SDG 14 and its promise of a resilient and beneficial ocean economy will be much harder to achieve. Diversifying ocean exports and activities is key to building economic resilience to future crises.

UNCTAD calls for:

  • Developing countries to promote diversity their ocean economies by investing in the capacity to export ocean goods, and supporting manufacturing activities, such as processed seafood.
  • Governments to align ocean policies across sectors, such as fisheries and transport, to boost export competitiveness.
  • Businesses to build shorter and more resilient value chains and promote the use of sustainable shipping.


Protect biodiversity

The report calls for governments to adopt and ratify the Marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction agreement of 4 March this year. Better known as the High Seas Biodiversity Treaty, the agreement will create tools for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources and establish internationally protected areas in our ocean.

The report reiterates the recommendations put forth by experts, industry representatives and government officials from around the globe who took part in the 4th UN Oceans Forum and the 2nd UN Ocean Conference, both held in 2022.

UNCTAD will host a series of podcasts called Weekly Tradecast that explore some of the main issues in the report.