Inter-regional cooperation to promote blue economy

Representatives from coastal and island countries from across Asia gathered in Bangkok yesterday to discuss how they can forge stronger inter-regional cooperation to promote Blue Economy approaches to address marine and coastal conservation challenges in the region.

The meeting, entitled “A Thematic Consultation on Blue Economy for Climate Change Resilience: Towards Partnerships and Collaboration” was jointly organized by the Embassy of Bangladesh in Bangkok and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Asia Regional Office, to create a platform for dialogue amongst South, Southeast and East Asian countries towards greater inter-regional cooperation to sustainably use coastal and marine resources.

climateDiscussions centered on how developing countries can work together under a South-South and Triangular Cooperation framework with countries of the North, to achieve sustainable development of the oceans and seas, help eliminate poverty and promote climate change resilience through the prudent use of marine resources.

Mr. Virasakdi Futrakul, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Royal Thai Government, while inaugurating the one-day meeting, said, “Today, one of our tasks is to find ways and means to make these regional groupings [IORA, ASEAN, SAARC, APEC1] collaborate towards a partnership that is beneficial and responsible to the global community.”

Bangladesh’s Permanent Secretary for Maritime Affairs of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rear Admiral (Retd) Md. Khurshed Alam, BN, presented the keynote paper at the consultations. He commented at the meeting that, “The oceans and seas are the common heritage of mankind and critical to sustaining Earth’s life support systems. Greater collective action is needed to protect the seas and marine ecosystems for sustainable and people-centric development.”

The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Ambassador of Denmark in Thailand, Mr. Mikael Hemniti Winther reaffirmed his country’s support to inter-regional collaboration for capacity building in marine and coastal eco-system management under Blue Economy strategies, and highlighted the role of private sector in helping develop the Blue Economy.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), also speaking at the inaugural, said that the Secretariat is committed to “facilitate regional dialogue on the Blue Economy—an integral element of regional sustainable development.”

Most of Asia’s population is coastal, and major cities and economic activity are concentrated along the coasts. But trends in marine resource exploitation and coastal development are degrading the ocean’s natural capital at a rapid rate. In the past 40 years, more than 40% of the region’s coral reefs and mangroves have disappeared. Asia’s fishing fleet is now the biggest in the world and unsustainable fisheries are depleting the region’s fish stocks.

The Blue Economy concept is a sustainable development framework which looks at oceans as “Development Spaces” which provide benefits for current and future generations, while also ensuring that the integrity and functioning of coastal and ocean systems are maintained. It is based on principles of equity, low carbon development, resource efficiency and social inclusion, and recognizes that the oceans have a major role to play in humanity’s future. The strongest global endorsement of the concept has been the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 which seeks to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

With UNFCCC COP 2015 only a week away, it is believed that the proposed consultation will help stimulate important views and ideas for consolidating inter-regional cooperation on the Blue Economy. The discussion is especially significant for many countries in Asia whose coasts are particularly vulnerable to a changing climate.

“As a Bay of Bengal littoral country, Bangladesh is actively reaching out to the international community to stimulate new and stronger partnerships on Blue Economy,” said H.E. Saida Muna Tasneem, Ambassador of Bangladesh to Thailand and Cambodia. “We believe collaboration amongst littoral and island countries from across Asia will enable us to maximize our resource-rich marine waters while building resilience to ocean-based climate change challenges.”

“The Blue Economy approach recognizes the interconnectedness of our planet,” said Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director of IUCN Asia. “By forging partnerships among countries and across sectors we can drive new ways of thinking about our coastal and marine resources and incorporate ocean values and services into economic modelling and decision-making processes.”

The Blue Economy consultations are being held in tandem with the annual Regional Steering Committee meeting of Mangroves for the Future, taking place from 24-25 November. Mangroves for the Future is an initiative that promotes investment in coastal ecosystem conservation for sustainable development.

The consultations were attended by Ambassadors, diplomats, senior officials from foreign and environmental ministries, scientists and civil society from the 11 countries who are part of the Mangroves for the Future Programme: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Representatives from key UN and International organizations working on environment and conservation also spoke at the event, in addition to Ambassadors from Mangroves for the Future’s partner countries Denmark, Sweden and Norway.